eview R

s s u e I e t h i  ale W h e T T

airy F

Fairy Tale Review The White Issue Zipes Jack Kamila Lis Dara Wier Ivy Alvarez MC HylandMC Evan HarrisEvan Kellie Wells Lesley Jenike Philip Beidler Philip Bitite VinklersBitite Tony Friedhoff Tony Imants Ziedonis Kurt SchwittersKurt ISBN-13: 978-0-8173-5531-9 ISBN-10: 0-8173-5531-6 Ashley McWaters Ann Fisher-Wirth Arielle Greenberg Timothy Schaffert Timothy Barbara Jane Reyes fairytalereview.com Margo Berdeshevsky This Book Belongs To:

Fairy Tale Review The White Issue  Editor Kate Bernheimer

Assistant Editors Christopher Hellwig Andy Johnson Sarah McClung

Web Editor J. Johnson, DesignFarm

Advisory Board Donald Haase, Wayne State University Lydia Millet, Tucson, AZ Maria Tatar, Harvard University Marina Warner, University of Essex Jack Zipes, University of Minnesota

Cover Art (inside frame) Kiki Smith, “Born” courtesy of the artist

Designer J. Johnson, DesignFarm

Layout Meike Lenz Tara Reeser English Department’s Publications Unit, Illinois State University

A co-publication of Fairy Tale Review Press and The University of Alabama Press Fairy Tale Review


Copyright ©2008 Fairy Tale Review Press

The University of Alabama Press Tuscaloosa, Alabama 35487-0380 All rights reserved Manufactured in the of America

Fairy Tale Review (ISSN: 1556-6153) is an annual co-publication of Fairy Tale Review Press and The University of Alabama Press. Subscription rates for 2008 are $20.00 for individuals, $25.00 for institutions, and an additional $8.00 for foreign delivery. Subscription orders and changes of address should be directed to Allie Harper, The University of Alabama Press, Box 870380, Tuscaloosa, AL 35487- 0380. Checks should be made payable to The University of Alabama Press.

Fairy Tale Review is devoted to contemporary literary fairy tales and hopes to provide an elegant and innovative venue for writers working with the aesthetics and motifs of fairy tales. How can fairy tales help us to go where it is we are going, like Jean Cocteau’s horse? We hope to discover. Please know that Fairy Tale Review is not devoted to any particular school of writing, but rather to original work that in its very own way is imbued with fairy tales.

Fairy Tale Review considers unpublished works of , , drama, , and non-fiction. At present art is by solicitation only. Submissions are accepted from April 15 to September 15 each year through Submission Manager on our website where you can also find our submission guidelines (www.fairytalereview. com). Simultaneous submissions are welcome; as a courtesy, simply let us know if your work is accepted for publication elsewhere.

No portion of Fairy Tale Review may be reprinted without permission.

ISBN-10: 0-8173-5531-6 ISBN-13: 978-0-8173-5531-9 Darkened rolling figures move through prisms of no color. Hand in hand, they walk the night, But never know each other. Passioned pastel neon lights light up the jeweled trav’ler Who, lost in scenes of smoke filled dreams, Find questions, but no answers.

—The Monkees, from “Daily Nightly” Performed on The Monkees, Episode No. 48, “Fairytale”

Fairy Tale Review The White Issue  ANNOTATED TABLE OF CONTENTS

Kate Bernheimer Editor’s Note • 13

“All great are great fairy tales,” wrote Vladimir Nabokov many years ago, and Fairy Tale Review continues to believe that all great literary works owe everything to fairy tales.

Ivy Alvarez Auto/biography, or so I was tolde • 15

she pickes mye foote up by the heele dragges hir fingre padde along myn arche

& seith unto me thow hath a noblewoman’s foote (tho I was but a chylde) Philip Beidler America’s Fairy Tale • 19

A tries to escape civilization by journeying into nature, where he falls asleep in the past and wakes up in the future. For that character, history becomes an unbounded present where all things are possible.

Margo Berdeshevsky Window • 31

She hated Saint Valentine’s day. A woman in a garter belt. And a moth who feeds on spice.

Ann Fisher-Wirth Variations on the Robber Bridegroom • 32

What use, mother, the sunlight and new milk, the lambs with bobbing tails, even these violets, blue as sleep, without his body?

Tony Friedhoff Three Poems • 38

A man becomes tied to the ground. Other than the growing of grass, there’s nothing much, but I never realized how rhythmically this can happen, and all the wild animals teaching him to dance in the movements of one who is tied to the ground, in the movements of one who is being eaten. Who is being kind here? Arielle Greenberg Four Poems • 42

This is the folk tale version in which you ride out to sea on the back of a turtle and it feels like moss on the backs of your teeth. You hang a clock in the sun.

You are the folk-tale virgin.

Evan Harris The Future of Despair • 46

The future is a low stone wall obscured by mist. It runs the far end of an untended meadow that grows in weak scrubby patches, pale cover, and high tannish grass. Above the wall, mist gathers white gray, softly opaque. The stones of the wall mass, edges meeting and missing according to shape, order of placement, angle of balance. Gaps form buffers between unmatched solidities.

MC Hyland “Bird, how beautifully you sing!” • 67

O makes a hole in the firmament & we treble through.

Under cover of high notes, the skin slips under covers. The wolf hiding. Lesley Jenike Three Enter the Dark Wood • 68

It’s the one about the bears and their blonde: In their many beds I left many cells, called my multiple personalities down, their faces to the sky a slide show of cheap reference, chanteuses

orphaned by a wave of bear. Life should have piano accompaniment—

Kamila Lis Two Poems • 69

That first time I saw myself miraculous, we baked swan-fat into bread when Satan whispered, “I can’t think of anything that can make me smile like you can and although you are perfect you have come too early and are here where something laughing will be shaped deliberately, ball of a palm pressed into moist clay.”

Ashley McWaters Seven Poems • 71

I weave a train its nameless tracks, late and claimless, scumbled thimble for blessing. No owl or bright bride, I weave myself to lace, to let in air. Barbara Jane Reyes The Duyong Series • 79

At midnight, the old men gather with oil lanterns aboard their fishing boats. With rosaries in hand, they stab the water with machetes. Their sons say, “Do not be foolish. There are no more here. It is the crocodiles who are stealing our young ones.”

Timothy Schaffert The Young Widow of Barcelona • 84

Suicide note? the minister asked, and Eve thought of music, remembering, listening for wilting notes of suicide in snippets of her late husband’s voice.

Kurt Schwitters Translated by Jack Zipes and the Great, Illustrious Writer • 95

A swineherd was tending his pigs and playing his flute at the same time: “Tweet, tweet, tweet, tweet, tweet, tweet, tweet.”

Kellie Wells Rabbit Catcher of Kingdom Come • 100

One sudden spring, when trees and flowers, bamboozled by warmth, began budding in January, the prematurely honied air flatly refusing to chill again until late December, the town of Kingdom Come, Kansas, was beset by a plague of black-tailed jack rabbits that were not only many but jumbo, bigger than great danes they were, gargantuan rabbits, suspiciously well-fed, slavering over the zoysia, plump middles heaving, back feet long and brawny as a sailor’s forearm and ears you could fan a fainting princess with. Dara Wier The Wizard • 124

At dawn and at dusk I leave the house to graze in the meadow beyond the river. There’s a trail I’ve covered with straw to follow and a convenient string of boulders I can use to make my way across the water. I sleep all through the day and work through the night.

Imants Ziedonis Translated by Bitite Vinklers Two Tales • 126

The sun, like a bright golden egg, gleamed in the sky. There was life within the sun: baby chicks, all light yellow, descended to earth along the sun’s rays. Later on the chicks will strut about in other colors, but they all arrive a sunny yellow.

Contributor Notes • 132

Acknowledgments • 140

Announcements • 141 Editor’s Note Form Is Fairy Tale, Fairy Tale Is Form 

“All great novels are great fairy tales,” wrote Vladimir Nabokov many years ago, and Fairy Tale Review continues to believe that all great literary works owe everything to fairy tales. In this issue, as with all previous issues, you will find work represented that draws from the spectacular, old of fairy tales in brilliant new ways. Fairy tales. When I use this phrase, I imag- ine, you sense in the term a unique form we still recognize and name “fairy tale” even after many centuries of manipulation to its discrete techniques. The form survives these mutations—in stories, novels, poems, essays, music, and art. It is also adaptable to a diverse range of stylistic modes, as evidenced in the wide array of work in this very issue. Fairy tales magne- tize writers who identify themselves as realists as much as Surrealists and Dadaists and modernists and fabulists and existentialists, not to mention and greeting card authors and tabloid headline writers. Yet in writerly conversations an appreciation of their very classical form is often sublimated to an appreciation of their obvious wild and strange mo- ments. That many writers do celebrate the dark- cosmos of fairy tales is wonderful, but I would also like to see an increased appreciation for the artistic dexterity and diversity at hand over the centuries. I believe, along with Nabokov and others, that fairy tales work on all of us as authors and readers; they’re so ubiquitious. Yet a critical under-appreciation of the precise art of fairy tales sometimes leads to the misinterpretation of these beautifully deliberate gestures as dream-like, somnolent moments; and (like so much writing associated with women, which fairy tales undeniably are) to fairy-tale writing being considered gem-like and of small importance, unless it reaches a mass-market reader. Instead of looking at how they’ve been disparaged, however, I want to take this tiniest moment to briefly cel- ebrate their form, which resides beautifully in flatness, abstraction, intuitive logic, and normalized .1 An increased understanding of these precise and incredible fairy-tale techniques, so wonderfully elucidated by one of my heroes, the scholar Max Luthi, but expanded, in the aesthetic of Fairy Tale

13 Review, to contemporary literature across the styles and , may help resolve the unfortunate schisms that sometimes arise between so-called mainstream and avant garde writers and critics. In this issue, as with every issue of Fairy Tale Review, you will find work across so many such borders; some of the writing refers to specific fairy tales, but much of it simply feels like a fairy tale; and how it feels like a fairy tale is through language, through form. With me please spread the word that fairy tales are the newest and oldest aesthetic; and they give our lives fearful, beautiful shape. Form is fairy tale, fairy tale is form. Here, I seek to give them a magical home.

Kate Bernheimer Tuscaloosa, AL

1. A vastly expanded version of this Editor’s Note, with the same title, will appear in The Writer’s Note- book (Tin House Books, 2009).

14 Ivy Alvarez Auto/biography, or so I was tolde  Mye foote she pickes mye foote up by the heele dragges hir fingre padde along myn arche

& seith unto me thow hath a noblewoman’s foote (tho I was but a chylde) see how hit curveth so highe thou wylt never be poore thou wylt never stay hiere

& by thise frekkle hiere thou wilt travelle far from these mowntaynes & skyes hir naile dyde scratche myen lytel skynne so myn foote didde curle & shrinke lyke a worme evicted from the earthe she dyde smile my mother’s mayde myn owne nurse who didde worke for hir keepe theire is no plas to go unless t’were the bottom o’ the worlde I thoghte

15 I wolde remaine stedfast hiere but the mayde was righte & I was wrong

16 Ant hilles

‘dare never thro stonnes at ant hilles,’ I was tolde tharto dryed mudde slops dyde rise from the grounde theyr shadows floatynge aboven the dirte

‘dally not where dwarffes live they’rt bolde enoghe to fynde ye & takke ye for theyr owne

& ye wil never bene founde agayn’

17 Chokke

I was a sea-childe surrownded by watere I et sea-snayles, oystres, shrimppe, prawnes, anchoffyshe & squidde, mudfyshe, catfyshe, dogfyshe I have swallowde a crele of fyshe

I loved moste the melkfyshe swymminge in a brothe of ginger & herbes served with rice or potatose but ware thou be for fyshe are fickle thynges, I was tolde wyth bonnes that canne chokke a yonge throate

I was taughte a tricke, a four-fingerde scoope a smale ball of rice to pushe downe & thumbe dyslodge the bonne past tyrs, feare of chokkynge mayhaps live to eat fyshe anothern daye

18 Philip Beidler America’s Fairy Tale 

character tries to escape civilization by journeying into nature, a where he falls asleep in the past and wakes up in the future. For that character, history becomes an unbounded present where all things are possible. We know the title of this story. It is the great American fairy tale called “Rip Van Winkle.” As a of individual and national self- invention, it writes the dream of ultimate freedom, of liberation from time. As a fable of political revolution, the overthrow of colonial mas- tery, it writes a new version of the fall into history, from old age back into eternal youth. It is simultaneously a fable, somehow, about imagining and forgetting. From the outset, we cannot decide as a people if we shall ultimately be styled redeemer nation or amnesiac nation. Amidst such weavings of and archetype, we can also know a lot of other things about the story, however: real and true things some- how mixed up with imaginary and made-up things, and vice-versa. For this is what “Rip Van Winkle” is really about: the endless reciprocity in America of history and . To put this more directly, in “Rip Van Winkle” we find ourselves face to face with a legendary example of how anciently complex the process of making it new—of enjoying what Emerson called “an original relation to the universe”—always turns out to be. On the matter of cultural origin, we know, for instance, that an American author named Washington Irving, although credited with the tale, did not really invent it. Nor as will be seen, from its first publica- tion onward, did he even claim to have written it, developing instead a complex fable of authorial transmission and attribution—and thereby suggesting at some of its deepest levels it might not be an American fairy tale at all but something more like a voyage into the collective folkloric unconscious. And on those points alone, then and now, continues to

19 arise many a literary and cultural complication. First, there was the mat- ter of the elaborate fictional genealogy. Indeed, as one of two gemstone “American” folk —the other being a companion entitled “The of Sleepy Hollow”—in an 1819 two-volume production of cal- culatedly transatlantic appeal, a collection of quite miscellaneous tales, atmospheric pieces, and popular essays entitled The Sketch-Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent.—not only was it not a Washington Irving story, but also it was not even a Geoffrey Crayon story. Rather, Crayon, himself a puta- tive traveling young literary type trying to score a hit by mixing the voices of the returning Anglophile pilgrim with the bumptious new American voyager, seemed at complex pains in attributing it, like its counterpart and unlike all the other largely English pieces in the book, to the much older, native, cultural researches of one Diedrich Knickerbocker—the latter being a previous creation of Irving in an earlier text of modest celebrity, entitled A History of New York from the Beginning of the World to the Present, and serving as an elaborate parody of American guidebooks and colonial histories. But even here the paper trailing did not end. In the case of “Rip Van Winkle,” particularly, the enterprise was attended with copious at- testations, before and after the of the tale proper, to Knick- erbocker’s factual veracity and scrupulosity. A foreword laid down his lengthy credentials as a historian, noting the imprinting of his likeness by American “biscuit bakers” on their “new year cakes”—“a chance of immortality,” we are told, “almost equal to being stamped on a Waterloo medal, or a Queen Anne’s Farthing.” A postscript further attested to the truth of the narrative, verifying its essential content by affidavit—to wit, a personal swearing of the story by the original Rip Van Winkle in the form of a legal deposition, witnessed by Knickerbocker, and certi- fied by a presumably illiterate country justice “with a cross in his own handwriting.” Meanwhile, however, Crayon did find himself forced to admit to a possibility of the reader’s discerning a certain similarity of mythic outline perhaps between the tale and a well-known German an- tecedent. And he called it by name—Barbarossa, or Frederick der Rothbart: the German legend of the Holy Roman Emperor, falling asleep in a cave of the Kyffhäuser Mountains to await the time of return when he would

20 make his nation the grandest and mightiest on earth. For readers of the era, this must have seemed a good dodge and an entertaining one. Rip’s enchanted twenty year sleep, brought on by too much Hollands Gin consumed while disporting at bowls with the ghostly crew of Hendrik Hudson—seems a delicious, small-change parody of the great legend of the re-arisen Emperor some envisioned (a prophecy not lost on Adolf Hitler, who used the name Barbarossa for his 1941 invasion of ) as returning to bring glory to Christendom through the restoration of the Holy Roman Empire. The problem is that not least did it also conceal a source of at least equal importance. That would have been Peter Klaus, most lately of the Volkssagen of J.G. Othmar, the far more relevant tale of a goatherd who, lured into a mountain cave where he finds twelve nights playing at ninepins, drinks wine and falls into a long sleep. Attempting a return to his earlier world, he finds his house ruined, his family missing, and his old friends dead. At length, encouraged by a sympathetic young wife and mother, who turns out to be his child, he is welcomed back into his home village. Whatever the borrowings to be detected in such a synthesis of origins, the important fact is that it becomes an alloy at once interfused with distinctly American elements, new elements of the emergently mythic and folkloric identifiable down to name, place, date, and natural and domestic detail. And much of this, at least in the beginning, derives from arts other than traditional literary . The charms of the landscape, painstakingly brushed in, the picturesque shadings of color, of light and dark, the details of forest, clearing, and mountain, the lordly Hudson strung with drowsy colonial backwaters, repositories of local custom and lore, are the charms of the American Sublime, the Hudson River School of painting perfected by such contemporaries as Thomas Cole and Asher Durand. So, on the domestic canvas of pre-Revolu- tionary War tranquility, the inhabitants are invested with actual, local, deeply historical American genealogies of fable and myth. The of “sketch” here in The Sketch-Book, indeed, is precisely that of the kind of social history at which Knickerbocker, in his own previous volume (by 1819 thrice reprinted) had already proven himself notably good, with its own peculiar charms and interest in the commonplace, workaday

21 world of the early colonial era. Even the Van Winkles were real peo- ple. Impoverished gentry, we would have called them, fallen on hard times. Irving knew a number of them personally. One of them, Cor- nelius Van Winkle, was his publisher. For good measure, in the story at hand, Knickerbocker is also at pains to help them out with a heroic past, recalling particularly their military presence, noted with typical mock- gravity, in scenes from the History memorializing the mighty Siege of Fort Christina. Meanwhile, the story busied itself with rendering folkloric images of a contemporary America as well. Not least of these was the myth of frontier adventure, emergent in the of tall-tale America—of a male world of hunting, fishing, drinking, gambling, brawling, and other- wise disporting, nearly always in the absence of mixed company; and of a world accordingly replete with rumbustious, backwoods, good-old-boy humor, jawing and yarning, not to mention embellishing and exaggerat- ing, one might say, almost beyond reckoning or belief. Here Rip is an early exemplar or comic prototype of the backwoods with the big , soon to be joined by myriad others—not least “Nimrod Wildfire, The Lion of the West,” the creation of Irving’s fellow member of the Knickerbocker literati, James Kirke Paulding. The great American boy- man, Rip pursues a “lifestyle” as we might now call it, comprising a full inventory of tall-tale commonplaces coming down to today’s American sexual and cultural politics. If Rip has a “Christian” or “proper” first name, to choose an obvi- ous point, we never learn it. He is “a rip,” in the sense that Huck Finn is “a huckleberry” and Daisy Miller is “a daisy,” or a fighting dog is named “Andrew Jackson” and a jumping is named “Dan’l Webster.” He is the stuff of local legend and the creation of the local lexicon. He is, as we might say, a “rip-snorter,” a “piece of work.” Alternatively, he may be a masterpiece of backwoods understatement, a cool case of playing it close to the vest, in the way that the slowest guy on the work crew is named “lightning” or the biggest one is named “tiny”—or the laziest man in the village, so far at least as his own domestic labors are concerned, is named “Rip.” Like the original Lion of the West and all the others to come, he is humorously misogynist. He lives in conditions mildly despotic, with

22 quotidian domestic discomforts—not least petticoat tyranny of a domi- neering wife, the shrewish virago Dame Van Winkle. Invested with shadings of German folk legend and the romantic sublime, redrawn with quaint, provincial, antiquarian charms—and then reconfigured in a new rod-and-gun leisure politics—Rip-world, as we might call it, is an American world to this day still unmistakable. De- vised in the image of the titular hero, it is that of the prototypical good old boy, six-pack joe, the bubba. With one’s dog as the companion of choice (in the original, with the latter as terrified, of his virago-mistress as his mas- ter) one makes off for the tavern, the fishing stream, the hunting woods; or now, perhaps, the golf course, the stadium, the sports bar, the bowling alley. Adventures in such male precincts become the materials of glorious prevarication. In some cases the lying is for the preservation of close-range domestic tranquility: excuses for misbehavior or unexplained absences. In others they get fashioned for the plain joy of it into a good story that somehow gets better with each telling, the more elaborate the creative re- scripting and embellishment the better. “That’s my story and I’m sticking to it,” is succeeded by “You ain’t gonna believe this shit, but…” The signature American is that of jolly demystification. Tales of the forest, mysterious , enchantments, spells, mountain caves, are blown off into the boyish yearning for escape from work and respon- sibility coupled with a frontier animus against the chastening, “sivilizing” influences of domestic culture. Infernal persecutions of hell in the shape of a woman, the of , the wicked of , the child-devouring witch of , re-imaged as the nagging spouse who dies, with sweet misogynist justice, of an apo- plexy while quarrelling with a Yankee Peddler. As a of male es- cape that is hard to beat. In the original, to be sure, we find our openings to the future in a very particular fable of cultures in evolution, both historical and literary, in the fullest sense. Before our eyes, the easygoing, somewhat slovenly, tradition-bound Dutch are clearly on the way out in the ascendancy of the busy, industrious, progressive Anglo-Americans. Indeed, if one is looking for political , there is plenty of that; and a lot of it turns out to be not nearly so bright, charming, even funny as it may look.

23 One may begin with the famous encounter in the forest and a question of stature. Beginning with Rip’s oddly menacing guide, the emissaries of history are distinctly dwarfish, grotesque, silent, un- smiling, strange miniatures from an old painting. This may be a nice folkloric touch, of the ancients drinking and bowling in some provin- cial Elysium or Valhalla; but if they are indeed Hendrik Hudson and his men, they also turn out historically to be fugitives from a very bad legend. One remembers congenially that Hudson, an Englishman sailing for the Dutch, makes history initially through his voyaging in the regions of the mighty river so named; one remembers less well, if at all, that the voyaging career ends far to the cold north, in a large, landlocked bay so named—with the leader cordially cast adrift by a crew of scared, scurvy mutineers. Likewise might be noted Rip’s own ancient condition, as his own strange dream fades into history. He wakes up old, bearded, rickety, with a missing dog and a rotted weapon; his resurrection, such as it is, is a moment of age, decrepitude, and decay. And then there is the equally famous scene of return. The price of the wild dream of freedom, a historical drunk, one might call it— in this case sleeping through the American Revolution—is exacted in quite a nasty little hangover comedy of egalitarian politics. The pastoral world, the landscape of field and cottage, the tidy village, have all be- come places of uncertainty and strange menace. The very place itself, the scene of life, has been transformed. The sturdy old “village inn,” we are told, where Rip has swapped genial conversation with his former townsmen, has been replaced by “a large, rickety wooden building, …with great gaping windows, some of them broken, and mended with old hats and petticoats” and with printing over the door announcing “The Union Hotel, by Jonathan Doolittle.” A sign previously depicting the royal vis- age of King George has not been replaced—it is one of the story’s best touches—but simply painted over: “The red coat was changed for one of blue and buff; a sword was held in the hand instead of a scepter; the head was decorated with a cocked hat, and underneath was printed in large characters GENERAL WASHINGTON.” Likewise, in place of a shel- tering tree, the inn is now presided over by a flagstaff—“a tall naked pole with something on top that looked like a red night cap, and from it was

24 fluttering a flag on which was a singular assemblage of stars and stripes.” The strange banner, of course, is the new national flag. The finial deco- ration is the liberty cap, bloodily transmogrified by the French Jacobins into the image of revolutionary mass-murder. An equally strange combination of absurdity and menace is pro- jected by the cultural actors in the scene. The vision of a world trans- formed permeates the character of the people themselves. The ideologi- cal moment could not be more crucially or precisely depicted. It is an election, a cacophony and chaos of haranguing, broadsiding, speechify- ing, baiting and bullying. In place of “the sage Nicholas Vedder” or “Van Bummel the schoolmaster,” we are told, Rip finds on center stage “a lean bilious fellow with his pockets full of handbills…haranguing vehemently about rights of citizens—elections—members of Congress—liberty— Bunker’s hill—heroes of seventy-six—and other words which were a perfect babylonish jargon to the bewildered Van Winkle.” The terms of social intercourse have changed indeed. Rip’s very appearance draws a crowd. Then, within moments, the “orator” and his cohorts are conducting an inquisition, demanding to know “on which side he voted,” “Federal or Democrat,” etc., etc. (So much, apparently, for secret ballots and the sanctity of the polling place.) Rip, of course, having slept through the Revolution, is baffled. A “self important old gentleman in a cocked hat” meanwhile accuses him of worse than ig- norance and/or a right to political privacy, demanding to know “what brought him to the election with a gun on his shoulder and a mob at his heels and whether he meant to breed a riot in the village?” To all this, the newly post-Revolutionary Rip makes the worst of all possible answers. “Alas, gentlemen,” he blurts out, “I am a poor quiet man, a native of the place, and a loyal subject of the King—God bless him!” “Here,” we are told, “a general shout burst from the bystanders— ‘a tory! a tory! a spy! a Refugee! hustle him! away with him!’” Order is barely restored. The interrogation continues. Rip’s identity is eventually established—a daughter emerges out of Peter Klaus to vouch for him; in a nice American backwoods touch, a ne’er-do-well double of a son and namesake leans against a nearby tree. The facts of the political moment

25 just passed remain shocking and unmistakable: Rip the revenant has nearly been lynched. In all these respects, Irving’s of life in the early republic be- comes prophetic of the impending era of rough and tumble Jacksonian- ism, a place where the line between de-mocracy and mob-ocracy can suddenly run very thin. But there is more here than just the fun of the tory nostalgist, or at the least a federalist with a certain loyalist nostalgia. There is also a primordial violence lurking under the surface of things, no matter who the object of the petty Jacobinism. In the same century, Clemens’ predatory backwoods idlers, the Duke and the Dauphin, may finally get what is coming to them for their sins, running amiss of a small town mob, last seen being tarred and feathered and ridden out of town on a rail. But this is too much for Huck—even at moment when he has every reason to hate them roundly. “Human beings,” he concludes, “can be awful cruel to one another.” Thus one senses the as well, for at least a dreadful moment, in “Rip Van Winkle,” of pastoral fantasy subsumed into political night- . What saves the story, as far as the main character is concerned, is that it is not a story so much about history or even character so much as about temperament or personality. And that is where the element of fairy tale re-asserts itself just when it needs to. There is humor, it seems to tell us; but there are still humors—as in the story at hand, where figures are actually labeled “bilious,” “phlegmatic,” and the like. To see something as newly humorous, is also to say something older about human nature generally. In an America busying itself with national expansion and the business of politics and economic acquisitiveness, it is supposed to be important to us, we see, that Rip is unambitious, altruistic, easygoing, good natured, and that he is further distinguished by his notable lack of industry on matters of household and family, prosperity, and well- being. In an America where the original daughters of the Republic, the generation of Abigail Adams or Mercy Otis Warren are being succeeded by their more culturally conservative and compliant daughters, the idea of petticoat tyranny deserves a good parting laugh. Amidst the sundry turbulences of a world in flux, Rip is above all just naturally popular— pleasant enough, adaptable, flexible, but popular in that unique sense of

26 the term only an American might understand then and now—popular, to be obvious, in the way a Bill Clinton or a George Bush is popular; or, conversely, in the way an Al Gore or a John Kerry is not popular—or, as importantly, in a way Hilary Clinton is feared not to be popular, with the emphasis on feared. When freedom comes, the door of family relation, loosely termed, whereby he went out, is still open for Rip to come back and, as they say, re-connect. As the Van Winkle translates itself into a new comic fable of generations, it is somehow all right that leaning against that tree is Rip, Jr., inheritor of that legendary name, a new leg- endary village idler in his father’s image. It is acceptable that Dame Van Winkle has been transmogrified into her kinder, gentler generational successor—a daughter already become a wife and mother in her own right, obviously schooled in her own irascibility with male failure and improvidence, but patient enough to vouch for the old man and take him in. For those schooled in academic modes of reading, it has been hard over the years not to resist giving Rip some final, positive archetypal spin, to elevate his story of rebirth into one more expression of great, yearning, American myth in the sense used by D.H. Lawrence in his description of Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales, a cycle of contemporary creations distinctly analogous to the Knickerbocker narratives: “…they go backwards, from old age to golden youth,” he wrote. “That is the true myth of America. She starts old, old, wrinkled and writhing in an old skin. And there is a gradual sloughing of the old skin, towards a new youth. It is the myth of America.” That may be so. But it is also hard not to read the text—as opposed to the intensely serious and didactic Cooper—as what it as easily could be meant to be. And that is as a homegrown fairy tale—in this case, the story of a boy and his dog, who get themselves into the middle of an extended golf or fishing or hunting or drinking , involving the de- mise or resignation of a spouse. Male and female alike, we cast our eyes upward and disapprove, tut-tut, of the fantasy of escape, of Rip returned and reborn, sans domestic responsibility to boot. But even to the end we are encouraged to enjoy it precisely because it is the humorous, com- munitarian, storytelling kind of stuff of which human dreams are made,

27 past, present, and future. The emphasis remains on Rip’s re-assimilation into the tribe, his discovery of a few “former cronies,” but also his ex- plicitly noted preference for “making friends among the rising genera- tion, with whom he soon grew into great favor.” He is a personality who has been actually allowed to become a legend in his own mind, we are further told, a local fixture, something of a tourist attraction. And when he is gone, the narrator concludes, among the ancient folk of the place and region, he will be brought alive in the telling and retelling of his tale. “Even to this day,” the narrator concludes, “they never hear a thunder storm of a summer afternoon about the Kaatskill, but they say Hendrick Hudson and his crew are at their game of nine pins; and it is a common wish of all henpecked husbands in the neighborhood, when life hangs heavy on their hands, that they might have a quieting draft out of Rip Van Winkle’s flagon.” The image at the end of the enchanting soporific is crucial. In an America become a turbulent hotbed of folkish nationalism, for all its acid politics “Rip Van Winkle” could still be a story for the fireside of the kitchen corner. In a brawling, tumultuous public world of legend- ary bragging, brawling, boozing, busy-ness, for all its impolite humor, it could still be a story for the tavern or the courthouse square. There is a lot of America in the story; there is a lot of the story in America. This was recognized from the outset. A best-loved title, a best- loved story, along with its companion-piece, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” it became part and fabric of cultural institution—with its de- sign extended, as is often forgotten, into a whole Knickerbocker cycle embracing such ensuring narratives as “Dolph Heyliger,” “Wolfert Web- ber,” “The Devil and Tom Walker,” all mixing pastoral nostalgia with deeper elements from the world of magic, world of charms, omens, por- tents, spells. Instant folk legend that continued the work of embodying a usable past. Meanwhile, Rip’s story was translated into popular drama, where it quickly became a stage favorite. As early as 1829, an adaptation by John Kerr billed itself luridly, “Rip Van Winkle; or, the Demons of the Catskill Mountains!!! A National Drama. In Two Acts.” Next came appropria- tion of the myth and the title role by a legendary actor, Joseph Jefferson,

28 one of the great American popular favorites of the age. Starting with Jefferson’s stage script of 1859, and then re-evolving through an 1865 collaboration with celebrity actor-playwright Dion Boucicault, who is said to have taken inspiration for his version from , “Rip Van Winkle; or the Sleep of Twenty Years” became the standard rendition. Jefferson himself became completely identified with the role, acting it for nearly four decades until his retirement, and making a series of short in 1896 that still survive. In the history of popular illustration, the tale became a classic in successive renderings by Felix O.C. Darley, Arthur Rackham, and N.C. Wyeth. In a late 19th century musical version, it generated an operetta. Most important, in print the story remained an endlessly anthologized popular and curricular classic, one of the few works of American litera- ture appearing at every popular and educational level from elementary school to college and university. At the end of the recent century, legendary status was conferred on the tale again through its inclusion—as the solitary American title in a roster of twenty-plus adaptations from European tradition—in the well-known Shelley Duvall television series Faerie Tale Theater. Notewor- thy about the revival were the direction—by Francis Ford Coppola—and the casting, a set of walk-on celebrity cameos surrounding Rip, played by the character actor Harry Dean Stanton, with Dame Van Winkle (here known as “Wilma,” with a nod to Fred Flinstone) played by Talia Shire of Rocky and The Godfather, and the post-Revolutionary mayor of the vil- lage by Tim Conway, of McHale’s Navy and The Carol Burnett Show. There was also substantial “current events” updating. This time Wilma Van Winkle got a torrent of lines heaping abuse on the feckless Rip; the po- liticos at the end headed by Conway looked satisfactorily bumbling and stupid. Rip got to deliver a plea for environmental awareness, handed down to him from a dream-conversation with Hendrik Hudson. At the beginning and the end, the spirit of a Native American could be seen hovering just within the frame. At about the same time, the story was honored by The National En- quirer with a purported expose of a true historical version, based on the researches of Stephen Press, a professor at nearby Dutchess Community

29 College, while writing a musical on the subject. Headlined “Rip Van Winkle’s Big Sleep is a LIE—He Was a Real-Life Drunk,” within was alleged the existence of a genuine Rip, born in 1827, in Gardiner, New York, and the father of two, Judith and Rip, Jr. The former, a hopeless layabout and boozer, at length escaped his wife’s nonstop litanies of com- plaint by running away to New York City around 1767, where he made a small career telling stories and singing songs in taverns, interspersed with minor acting roles. In the latter capacity, he was discovered by his daughter on a visit to the city, ill and humiliated by the effects of a twenty year bender. It was in fact to disguise his shame that, his wife dead, he concocted his tale of a sleep, which he allegedly told for the rest of his life in country taverns . His death came, remarkably, at age 91, the story concludes; just one year before Irving rendered him immortal in the famous story. That, too, is the story of America. History and myth repeat them- selves as pay-for-view TV and tabloid expose. And every time, it be- comes a version for its time, as true as any or as false as any. To this degree, one might say that “Rip Van Winkle” has been Fairy Tale Theater along. The measure of the story’s appeal is that it is true because it makes us get real about ourselves as we are. The fairy tale elements of the story re- main topical or cultural in the fullest sense: an endless mining of humor from a that women ought to find infuriating; an adolescent image of maleness that men ought to find deeply problematic; a depic- tion of the national political character as inherently selfish and vicious; the endorsement of a certain kind of historical and cultural escapism that encourages us to revise the past so as to make the future work, or at least look promising for the moment. But, as importantly, the topical or cultural elements of the story remain fairy-tale in the fullest sense. As it propels us forward in time, it takes us back. It is not for nothing that F. Scott Fitzgerald ends The Great Gatsby with the image of a strange, won- drous voyaging, of a world “that flowered once for Dutch sailors’ eyes” wherein we ourselves now “beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

30 Margo Berdeshevsky Window  s he hated Saint Valentine’s day. A woman in a garter belt. And a moth who feeds on spice. The woman stands in the beige lace belt which is a gift that was in her mailbox this morning. She had said, “I will not celebrate ’s day anymore, unless or until some good man leaves me beautiful lingerie in my letter box.” And then it happened. She is standing at her window, wearing the gift. Outside, it is Wednesday noon, and beautifully, delicately, snow- ing. Inside, she is warm and she is at her window. Below in the flying snow, he is watching. She makes a sign with the fingers of one hand, like a butterfly, and he knows he may visit, now. When he enters her room, it is with another small gift, a square thing wrapped three times, in tissue papers the color of chrysanthe- mums. The mauve, the plum, the deepest red. She opens it like an eager child. A tiny cricket cage, like the ones in street markets in Hong Kong. Not a cricket in it, though; a spice moth. A woman in a garter belt. A man who understood her need. She takes the wonderful new gift and carries it to the window and she opens it quickly; sends the moth out into the fluttering white. “It will die,” he says. She frees the man, as she closes the blind. He will forever speak of this woman. No wife can bear to listen.

31 Ann Fisher-Wirth Variations on the Robber Bridegroom  1.

What use, mother, the sunlight and new milk, the lambs with bobbing tails, even these violets, blue as sleep, without his body? What is the world to me?—I want him back. I am not like the with their dances and games who sit on the floor and braid each other’s hair. I am the bush with its roots in hell, the bride whose blood runs pomegranate red. Like any thwarted I stamp and shout. If you try to hold me I’ll run from the house.

32 2.

I married the handsome baker. I cannot sleep, longing for the woods that day, longing like a fool for my robber bridegroom. I trapped him, Father killed him. Always I dream of his hands, always I hear my voice—

Father, prepare your men. At the banquet, when my bridegroom comes to claim me, I’ll lull him with wine, lay his head in my lap, and tell him this story:

I came to a house in the forest, where a yellow bird in a cage sang, “Turn back, turn back, thou bonnie bride…” An old woman struggled to her feet, pushing her hands before her. She hurried me into the basement, hid me behind a wine cask. —Why do you start, my love? It was only a dream.

Soon robbers arrived, my bridegroom among them. They brought in a girl they had in the forest, and made her drink white wine, yellow wine, red. At last her heart burst. —Why do you start, my love? It was only a dream.

Cowering behind the wine cask, I hid from the knives and screaming. The robbers ripped her bodice and skirts. The robbers cut her in pieces.

33 Her finger flew to my lap where I crouched hiding. —Why do you start, my love? It was only a dream.

And here is the finger…

34 3.

So, we meet again, you who came through the closed screen door those nights in California. Your hair is wet—dark water. Ssh—my family is sleeping. Lay your coat on my books, push your boots beneath my bed. There will be love. Till the end of my life you’ll come to me. Then the sky will split like a milkweed pod and out will fly my vanished children.

35 4.

I left the handsome baker.

Each night I sit in the dark in my father the miller’s house, and scan the woods for moonlight to prick me a path through the forest of these dead. To lead once again past the bird, the gabbling woman, the victim, her finger that soars through the air, bloodies my skirt, and sears my thigh.

I whisper it like a litany: White wine, yellow, red, dear God she has been chosen, let her drink it, let her heart burst, and it does burst—

If I could arrive at that table, I’d turn to my bridegroom with tenderness: Take, eat, my bridegroom, and while you chew the gristle of my heart, I will tell you my dream of a girl who lulls your suspicions with wine, whose kinsmen wait, bristling with knives, who draws from her pocket a finger—

36 5.

I have come back where the azalea casts its shadow. Over the muddy fields, a froth of weeds.

Sun after rain, the beautiful useless changes. My love, I wish I had eaten all twelve seeds.

37 Tony Friedhoff Three Poems  Tale of Certitude

A man becomes tied to the ground. Other than the growing of grass, there’s nothing much, but I never realized how rhythmically this can happen, and all the wild animals teaching him to dance in the movements of one who is tied to the ground, in the movements of one who is being eaten. Who is being kind here? Are there gods or ? I forget. The jackal maybe— his left eye reflects a little more than the gristle you’d expect. I understand, but only a little, the letters he pretends to read in each blade of grass, the plots that pretend to unfold as it grows. The jackal sets the tempo by scratching the earth, and barely remembers how we brought him to this spot, along with his fellow dancers. A man becomes dead.

The jackal becomes a thinking creature. His first realization is that he brought himself to this spot. He reads everything he can lay his eyes on, and tears so much open that his eyes are glassy and bloodshot. The jackal becomes curious.

The ground becomes slick with the blood of the jackal’s inquiry. Antlers dance with tree bark. There is a swirling together of the fluids on the plain—plant fluids, animal fluids, dust fluids—in a black puddle slipping from the jackal’s mouth. Does the jackal remember the man that brought him here? Does he remember us, we who brought the man and tied him? Does the jackal remember other dancers, or even the light in his own left eye? No. Yes. I never realized how rhythmically this could happen. The ground becomes a looking glass.

38 Tale of Bronze

There was a ring and it consumed me. Or is it better to say: I passed through it; there was a ring and it birthed me, its shadow crossing my face, giving me a childish look? What is better to say: that the king’s daughter fell in love, or that the shadow of the ring passed over me, and then I killed and then I killed, and then I killed until she was mine?

First the white, then the black, then the red. Which is better to say: that Father Christmas pilots my ship, or that I trade in slaves? The coal black bottom of my boat turns to diamond and then back again, depending on how merge and the merchant who threatens to consume them. My business becomes the timing of entrances: which is it better for her to see: the blood of three dogs on my face, or the patron saint of children cowering in my presence? The diamond boat seals its path behind it, and the coal boat leaves a trail that the waves refuse or fail to scatter. Which is better?

The merchant seals his presence with a basket full of red fish. We all do what the witch tells us. The merchant buys a path to the ring’s shadow, and I am far away, but much less childish. I am far away, but slightly closer to death. Why does everything happen when I step away? We all do what the witch tells us, and the carpet of leaves underfoot tells me I am not central to her plan.

The merchant sells his presence for the shadows of his fish. We all do what the witch tells us, and for this reason the blood will overlap on my face: first the white, then the black, then the red.

The merchant sells his presence for my bronze ring, and my shadow steps away. Which is better to say: that the princess sold my ring, or that I was tired and far away, that I stopped casting shadow?

39 Tale of Reduction

William strings his bow. If we ever part, it sings. If we ever part, the nations will rise against us.

William draws up to the castle walls on his bicycle. If we ever meet, William says. If we ever meet, the sunshine will waver so we can see what we’ve missed.

Draped in his melody, William forgets to properly park the bicycle. Farewell for now, it says to him, and tumbles into the Found River. Farewell for now. I am an unfair advantage to you.

The river’s melody gives William something to think about. It pushes the pedals and the chain comes loose; it plucks from the spokes the dream notes of a harp. It turns the whole thing to sediment and erodes it away.

William stares at the sun to bring forth the proper tears. There are no shortcuts this time, the sun tells him, and then it strikes William blind. He finds the castle wall, presses the flesh of his cheek against its stone.

Yours is a cold comfort, he says, learning how to whisper. Yours is a cold comfort, pure as raspberries on the tongue.

The wall can hear that William is still thinking only river thoughts, can hear its vagrant melody on his breath. I am not your lover, the wall echoes at him.

I am not your lover; erosion is a shameful end. Stung, William drowns his bow. If we ever part,

40 it sings. If we ever meet, William whispers, and the castle has been conquered now for centuries.

41 Arielle Greenberg Four Poems  Poem with Trodding in It

No one advises late-night wall colors. They’ll shut you in, they say. Keep your name a measly gold. Keep it secret. Dullify it. Same as spending power. Same as the bone I can’t yank from my wrist, though the birthmark that was an alarm in every elementary school I attended has vanished as if cut away. As if I pressed it as hard as I liked with the edge of my nail until we were exhausted, me and the foreigner under my skin, the little blinker. Now I want to paint my walls the color of that mistake. Now everyone distrusts me, though I never got detention. Now I sink like a bread loaf, skip like a frog, wear a nightgown with nothing under the arms. In my skin, in the absence of lace or linen, I carry the musky paint for my toad-house in the swamp. I live without lights there. It grows on me. Every year I like it some more.

42 Up Around Cinderella

Love/hate the face in the window where in some castle, carriage, coach-led fanfare hidden behind a violet square: a princess held aloft by the air.

These days are mad, bad, dangerous to know. Keep close the ring with the eye of the crow. Watch the dark woods, watch the bright road. All these secrets pile up like snow.

Will your yard contain a wishing well? Brambled roses? Fairy bells? The pea will never kiss and tell. Fantasy beds make their own fresh hell.

Love/hate the stating of the obvious. Get on board with the omnibus. You’ll grow up a girl, the kind one can trust. Set your course by stars for us.

Trussed by a canopy, felled from a tree, the bough is broke by each girl baby. The song I’ve sung is simple and creepy: the stories have axes. Cut yourself free.

43 Forgotten

As in a fairytale, there’s a hole in my book where a mother should be, a hole in my head, caught in my throat, a hole in my fine felt heart worn on a fob. There’s a hole big enough to push my finger through and flex to feel the flood of air I am damming. This hole die-cut in my life and peered out to an illuminated page with a castle and a rook, this round, voided space, my mother. The hole that hills yell through. If I followed the paths—was orphaned, taken to the wolves or the or left in spindled knots— well, as in I am living the good life without, flooded with relief that the hole was cut, neat and taut, to allow for the pleasant damning of my mild eyes. Without that part of the , I can see the next page, and the next, woodland creatures, three fairy midwives cloaked in blue, and the place where there is now a hole used to be a bad word, but is no more, she is sheared from my book, look, I am waving in a crystal gown in royal procession, happily, look, I am led by steeds at a trot, happily, look, my cradle is gossamer-veiled and safely caught, finally, though outside the lead glass windows the brambles grow thick as muscles and a crow is cawing in absentia, gone but not.

44 The Shape of the Sun

This is the folk tale version in which you ride out to sea on the back of a turtle and it feels like moss on the backs of your teeth. You hang a clock in the sun.

You are the folk-tale virgin.

How do you know when the picture of a thing has the meaning of the thing? The clock in the , the clock on your wall, the clock in your well, the clock failing in your bedside cadaver self. You just know. Even when the story has yet to be told, and you make no sense.

Sense is the silver line the turtle draws through the ocean. If it’s broken in the wake, you cannot follow it. If a sea is called the ocean, how do you know it is the same, your new home? And yet you go, badly slapping at the world. Dragged by your story, a diamond of saliva in the narrative, a vast spoiled by every second. Every second you get a little bit closer to knowing something, to recognizing its twin. Which is sad, actually, how the clocks are falling back from their various shelves, spiking their gears into your well-worn flesh.

45 Evan Harris The Future of Despair  After Aftermath

The future is a low stone wall obscured by mist. It runs the far end of an untended meadow that grows in weak scrubby patches, pale cover, and high tannish grass. Above the wall, mist gathers white gray, softly opaque. The stones of the wall mass, edges meeting and missing accord- ing to shape, order of placement, angle of balance. Gaps form buffers between unmatched solidities. The surfaces of the stones are smooth, worn and worn and worn, layers of sameness revealed, damp with the linger of mist. Moisture pulls a grudging gleam from the dull depth of color, draws out versions of gray. Steal, charcoal, , storm, slate, pitch, silver shut of glitter. Grays the gray of absence, stillbirth, cold sweat, skin long dead, pain, fear, hopelessness. The future is a low stone wall obscured by mist.

High Time

We see that a number of seasons, stark and raining, raining and stark, have passed. Quite a few. Many, that is. The count: lost. Or mis- placed, or somehow simply overlooked. We confess a preference for the long view. Not to suggest far-sightedness; our vision is fine at close range. For example, we have observed that the time is near, that it is nigh. Perhaps, at some point, we blinked. Or winked. Forty winks here and there, a little shut-eye now and again. Not to imply that we’ve been asleep at the switch. We do our duty as professionally as we are able, keep our watch, which goes the clock’s whole circle.

46 The moments mount, add up. The time is high. We all but crane. It cannot be denied. High time. Heavens, how it has flown! Rather out of hand. Gives us pause, and as we stop to consider, we are concerned, disturbed. Alarmed, come to think of it! Time flying? Time in flight, fleeing, it would seem, fleeing the scene. Running. Running away. Running away to escape. Pursued? Hotly pursued, running away to escape danger, obviously threatened. The threat of capture; the threat of violence. Assault? Murder? Who could stand accused of killing time? Or sit, as the case may be. We point no finger lest it point back. Perish the thought. Put it out of mind. There, gone. We have not entertained the thought of harm being done to time for over a moment or two, moments that have been and passed. There they went. And no harm done. Safe, unscathed. All is well. No need for fluster. If indeed time has been running, it has simply been running late, taken it upon itself to gain, making up for the loss of itself. Or no, impossible. Clearly not! It would, necessarily, be the other party that is tardy. Just a little on the late side, but surely arriving as we speak. Any moment now. Ergo: Time is running out. That’s it, nothing more. Our mistake. Silly us. We must get up to speed. No sense in attempting some type of forestalling maneuver. That would not do at all. A waste, simply put. It cannot be delayed. It is, after all, time. Tick tock, season after season. We do not deny it: Aftermath is not exempt from the rule of the clock, however removed from the usual course of things. However long the approach, high the stone wall, and secure the gate to the Manor, climbing greenery quite overgrown, twist- ed over the twisting of itself to form a tendril lock that fixes the latch of the gate in perpetual place. A talon brown grip in this, the stark season; a deep green clutch in the other, the raining. One or the other; this one or that one; coming or going. The hands of the clock will not turn backward; the gate will not swing open. A hearty rap on the narrow wooden door set in the wall adjacent to the gate will have to do. The visitor will kindly forgive the door’s disrepair: knob loose in its casing, hinges flaking rust. Rap rap rap

47 on the splintering surface. A step back, a shifting of stance, an adjust- ment of the satchel, perhaps. The poor postal carrier is used to the situ- ation. Season after season. And the others, or rather the other, the one for whom we presently wait, well, he will kindly wait for response from within the confines of Aftermath Manor. We apologize if the staff is a bit slow on the uptake. A bit slow to respond. We ourselves have very nearly fallen behind in the timely execution of duty. Indeed we jolt to quite the wake up call! Our work is cut out. But of course, it’s been cut out from the start. Or the follow- ing. The following, to be more specific, at which point we took on our work. Accepted our office. The Custodians of Aftermath—a nominative position. Quite a legacy to look after. Following a long history of follow- ing, that is. No small feat, really, keeping the big picture in mind. But of course keeping track of our charge is, at this most critical point, the first order of business. All paperwork & etc. aside, she is the absolute priority. Hands down. We must take her aside. We must have the chat, have the conversa- tion which, admittedly, looms, casts an obscuring shadow. Perhaps we are somewhat in the dark. But we shall see. We take the long view. A wee bit on the late side, perhaps, but the painter will soon arrive, and the undertaking may then commence! We intend to speak with our charge presently. She has been alerted. The staff—the two of them—have been set to the task of summons. Gar- dener has seized the bell pull, a knotty fingered grip around the thickly braided chord. Bent arm beating, he has sent the bell to ringing, peeling out to penetrate the farthest reaches of Aftermath Manor, to penetrate this early hour with its long toll, which will summon our charge, call her in to be sent up, up to the tower. Gardener has stalked his gray cover-all clad frame down the re- verberating corridor, shoulders rolled in a stiff hunch, forearms swing- ing from his elbows in staccato opposition, the time keeping of this movement punctuated by occasional flex of either or fist. He passes the kitchen door. A solemn nod for Greiva, who stands in the thresh- old, arms triangulated, ample hips host to the stumps of her handless wrists.

48 Gardener moves on. Gray lips, gate to the grave of his mouth, lock in a line. His tongue long since laid out dead. We wager it was something he said. Something we didn’t catch. We cannot concern ourselves with every little thing. Your guess is nearly as good as ours. A fatal slip? A preference named? A passion claimed? But never mind the daughters of Aftermath and their charms, their jealousies. None of those girls was ever a girl with any head for reason. The torment, the trauma, the loss. The modes of escape. The pattern of flight. Memory passed into history. Those girls made their bets, took their chances. They made their beds, and thus they lie, snug in the damned-if-we-know-what’s-become-of-them category. The record is the record: not a single portrait hangs in our Gallery Hall. The Gallery Hall, of course. The Hall. Rigor must be maintained on matters of gram- mar, however at home we feel here in Aftermath, however comfortable we have become, remaining. Remaining as we have been. Remaining as is. Continuing to remain. We are working with what we have. And there Gardener has gone, about his business, down the cor- ridor, veering off at the passage that leads into the winding reaches of the quarters beyond. The corridor empties of the bell’s final toll. The sigh of Greiva heaves out heavy, drops down upon the bib, falls in amongst the folds in the skirt of her apron. The posture of Greiva adjusts with a drop of the heavy hip, an advancing of the foot. The toe of Greiva taps. Pat pat pat on the plank. Pause. The arm of Greiva raises in a handless hail and beckon. We must have that chat. That conversation, that dialogue. Time is running out. It cannot be delayed. Waiting is entirely out of the ques- tion. We mean to speak with her directly. We mean to prepare Despair for the undertaking of her future.

The Stark Season & The Raining

Come in, Dear. We were just expecting you. Good of you to come on such short notice, but these things have a way of creeping up. Hope

49 it isn’t too much of an inconvenience. Or an interruption of any kind. Come in, please. And shut the door. Firmly if you would. The latch of the door ought to catch. This weather’s quite something, isn’t it? Two trees down at the edge of the wood to our current knowledge, and the temperature plum- meting, as well. Electricity out for some time—moments immemorial— adds to that stormy feel, doesn’t it now? Drapes drawn against the draft and wood loaded upon the fire lest we catch a chill. A terrible chill. A terrible shiver to the marrow that wracks, trapped within. Fracture; splinter. Crystalline shiver slivers pierce out- ward, pierce back through vein, enter the silvery blue stream, turn it icy pale, then toneless, translucent. The frigid spread of blood running cold. Ice blood seized by its own freeze. A cold hollow still of the heart. Such are the conditions we must guard against; such weather in- deed! Harsh in the extreme. Practically foreboding. Record severity, perhaps—though we have not been keeping track, per se. We have not collected data, drawn up tables or charts, engaged in studied comparison. To what end, after all, can such comparison pos- sibly be applied? Prediction? No need to create busy work. Memory and expectation serve. Retrospect, supposition. Remembrance, assumption. Recollec- tion, anticipation. We have all we require for a perfectly reliable forecast: The weather does as it has done; as it will do. The relative degree of severity does not signify. Does not indicate, does not point to a thing. We will not draw conclusions, or even sketch them. We will not so much as ever so lightly trace with the tapering tip of a finger the outline that trails, spindles over that fenceless field of the mind’s eye. There are absolutely no conclu- sions in sight. All is current. We remind ourselves that severity is just precisely what is to be expected, given the season. The stark season: feeble gray light undifferentiated the clock’s whole circle but for a darker gray, a dimming at the odd hours. The sky a low steely trap beneath which wind hurls, crashes, rolls, lifts, twists to create out of itself an edge that turns, whips, switches, sharpens the cold in its downward stab then wails back whence it has come to surge again.

50 Such acrobatics coupled with force as it batters the poor unfortunate earth, which, already brutalized unto numb near senselessness, caves, beaten. Taking cover from the weight of itself, it isolates layer by layer for hope at protection, effects complete retreat. Naturally, it will all let up. Overworked, the cold will dull, blunt out, lose its edge, go slack. Limp, it will cease to torment the earth, leave the branch and bush to their brittleness, and fall to sleep. And the wind will exhaust as well, die down to a fine, variegated breeze, just enough to give the paper weights something to do. It will flap, flutter, then settle, coat the ground, disintegrate into the earth, sink and store itself deep in funneling hollows. And the earth will harbor the wind, begin to warm through the latent energy of it. Begin to unhunker, unhunch, push outward, upward. Exhale! And force the hard low sky to uncrowd, to rise. Time after time. Seasonal change after seasonal change. Does rep- etition not allow for use of the ? Lifting, the sky spreads out, thins, grows translucent. So thin and fragile the sky. No match, now, for the light. No match for downward trajectory. Dense, golden shafts of light puncture the sky. Velvety black-green clouds follow, pour in around the golden light, then suspend, dimensional in their fullness. The clouds fatten as they layer, form a rich black-green opacity that supports the distant grey sky above. And then, the rain. The warm, green, large dropped rain, rain, rain. Shafts of light continue to come, to break through, parting the clouds. Dense, golden, dry. The light beams through untouched, un-wetted. Green rain raining to the edges of the light. Golden light lights the rain, infuses it, causes it to fall tinctured, to soak the earth green-gold. The branch and bush respond with buds; the greenery unfurls. And there. The raining season will be upon us once again, bringing re- newed opportunity for our charge to take her exercise out of doors. Yes, yes, how Despair has always favored her walks about the grounds during the warmth of the raining season, never the wet. How we recollect her very first steps! The very first, in any event, that took her someplace. The others, the weebols and woobles—well, to be frank, we didn’t notice. We cannot concern ourselves with every little

51 thing. Ahhh but little Despair, so darling in her little mourning pinafore and galoshes, out the kitchen door she went, down the slope of the lawn, following along in the dry protection of a shaft of light, little arms hug- ging about her, drawn just within the golden edges, safe from the green rain falling heavy on either side. The light took her clear across the park and to the edge of the wood, where the stream was all in a flood, bank muddy as you please, torn up and treacherous where a tree had uprooted and fallen across the stream. The shaft of light deposited Despair at the foot of this troublesome bridge and then, as the caprice of it would go, that light shifted its golden path in an altogether different direction, leav- ing her stranded with the rain falling falling falling all about her. But shel- ter in sight! How our dear little Despair engineered a crossing over the slick bark of the tree, ever so nearly slipping as she made her way. Ever so nearly losing balance. But she gained the opposite side after all, scrambled up the bank. And with the passing through of the picket gate and the trip trip tripping up the walk, there she was, arrived. The playhouse! A miniature cottage set at the edge of the deep, dark wood. (Well. Not so unknown and unknowable as all that.) In point of fact, the acre- age neighboring the boarder of Aftermath had at that point been thoroughly paced, plotted, and flagged. Surveyed, that is, as the result of a long deliberated real estate deal, ever on the verge of being sealed. In she went through the little door, and into the little space. A wash of blue; the heady smell of oil paint. Dear little Despair, face to face with a singular work of art that thoroughly dominated the place. Had the figure in the painting been rendered standing, the canvas could never have found a home in the playhouse at all. But no, the figure sits, belly big with pregnancy, and just fits, filling the space floor to ceiling and wall to wall, impressive though incomplete. Sketchy, that is, in the hands and feet, hair tendriling out to a dissipation of white. And silvery gray eyes unfinished, gaze, unfixed. Despair seated herself in the window seat, back to the pains, rapt by the image before her, still, intent. Presently, a light sigh of welcome extended through the binding hush. And then, with breath drawn over a still heart, the smooth, regulated voice (a reliable narrator, to venture a guess) began with .

52 The Conception of Despair

Once upon a time in Aftermath, a moment cracked in half. And from the split, a pair of twin girls came to be. The pair of them grew, turning, fitting convexity to concavity, head to hollow in the shift within the close dark curving space. Kicking ensued. Perhaps it was Defeat that started it. Looking for a fight. On the other hand, it was Desire that had begun to catch out, plucking at the heart of her sister. Grabby, you might say. Those girls worried at one another until Desire managed to pinch away a ragged hole in Defeat’s flesh, exposing the cavity beneath. That done, she flew back with her fingers and snatched away a piece of the heart of her sister, a piece live with the insistent drive to beat—defeat defeat defeat. Jubilantly, Desire consumed her keepsake, popped it into the red O of her mouth and swallowed. Defeat smacked out in a pained fury, but the piece was gone. It rolled through chutes inside, traveled through, traveled down, into the stomach of Desire. There, the piece churned, sloughed its rhythm until pulse gave up to a one way inward suck. The piece took in and absorbed the blood of Desire, blood dense with the viscous seep of longing. Naturally, Defeat would not let it go at that. Twisting in a struggle for recovery, one hand clapped over the wound in her chest, she thrust the other hand out, groping in the dark. She found an opening, reached up into the innards of her sister, and scraped in search until she took hold of the piece, and wrenched it out, giving loose a triumphant whoop that rang in cacophony with her sister’s shriek. And then, silence, a still complete. Both of those girls froze, ar- rested. A treasure glowed in Defeat’s grip. A piece of the heart of Defeat imbued with the blood of Desire. That piece had transformed through an unknown alchemy, neither en- gineered nor imagined. A lustrous core. Iridescent in color, teardrop in shape. The smooth, firm surface. The sense of volumetric depth. The weight. As if Gravity had been seduced by some celestial body. The

53 luminous draw of it. The magnetism of perfect containment. Of course, each of those girls would have it for her own. The wanting one. The battling one. The tumble and the trouble they went to, snatching out for its glow in the dark, securing that treasure for a moment; the ferocity in wresting it away. Perhaps the place wasn’t big enough for the pair of them to begin with, and in the end, unruly as they grew, the confinement could hardly be sustained. Clawing at one an- other for possession of that singular treasure, they tore right through the curving wall, destroyed the space of their coming to be, left it lacerated, ruined. Devoid of any future? How pretty the mother had been. Such pleasure for the painter to study. Hello, yes, shall we continue? They met safely removed from the whip and slash of the Stark season during which the mother’s term oc- curred. Long sessions beside the freshness of the fountain in the perpet- ual balm of the gardens of Aftermath, with only the ever so unremarking chaperone of the old groundsman. Far be it from a man long silenced to comment when he came around occasionally to putter with his clippers, guiding growth in deep beds that regenerate seasonless flowers. Gracefully, she seated herself, matched herself to the charcoal marks for toe, elbow, wrist. Peacefully, she settled, her gaze evenly fixed on the middle distance. Perfectly, she took her pose. How the painter took note of the mother’s gesture: The incline of her head, the fan of long strong fingers over her belly. How he learned her contours, his hand practicing her form, great in protrusion that swelled and curved back to its resolution like the last few notes of a good love song. And how he conceived her colors. Hair pure white from infancy. Eyes the silvery gray of a metal too precious to mine. Skin just tinged the blue of blood flowing within. The still; the timeless harmony of her. She was pretty as a picture, a model subject, really, but of course, there was no sense in painting it now. Before and after, however, meant nothing to those girls. Out they came out in bursting heave. Took no part in helpless infancy. They walked, they talked, and they skipped not a beat in tor- menting each other. Each howled her first word in the dread accusation

54 of naming—Desire, Defeat—and leapt her first step in assault, sure the other had won the treasure, taken and swiftly secured it somehow in the last moment of struggle in the dark. Though in fact, no. The teardrop had slipped from the grasp of each sister in turn, and would wait, still, in a deep defenseless dark. Deluded and naked in the garden, Desire and Defeat fought them- selves into a blur. A funneling whirl, those girls whipped away from the prone form of the mother, the wreck of a vision. Tableau defied as she writhed in the painter’s lap, his hands suspended over her in a trembling hover as if to mutely work some desperate . Tandem tornadoes in neck and neck chase, those twin girls tore out of the gardens, leaving the soft balm behind. On they raced, hurling at one another, careening through the whip and slash of the stark season, through the park and up the slope of the lawn until the stone and mortar of Aftermath Manor was before them, and those two naked frenzied things fell to beating upon the kitchen door. It was the house keeper that let the pair of them in, let in the double soul of relentlessness that rivaled the forces of nature. Well. The housekeeper scrubbed the girls up as best she could, what with the profusion of non-compliant behavior, including biting, as you can imagine. Dauntless, she searched the girls skins on purpose to deter- mine the difference between them. But as the scars had gone internal, the housekeeper found nothing—no difference—and decided that time would make its own distinctions. She dressed the girls in old mourning pinafores, and turned those two wild things loose in the Manor. No longer called for, the painter packed up his easel and his brushes. That done, he made his way through the balm of the gardens to a modest gate at their outlying edge. He passed through the gate and into an untended meadow beyond. There, at the meadow’s edge, he came upon the old groundsman, who stood with his shovel shouldered and his head bowed, ever mute, a long narrow mound of bluish dirt at his feet. Approaching the groundsman at the site of the mother’s grave, the painter offered his hand, blue paint faintly tracing the lines of heart and life. That done, he set off toward a low stone wall obscured by mist, which ran along the far edge of the meadow. He left the confines of

55 Aftermath behind. She’d been pretty as a picture, but it had been his object to work from life, not memory. And the unfinished portrait? Clearly unsuitable for the Manor’s Gallery Hall, it was carried by the old groundsman to a vacant room in the servant’s quarters. He leaned the large canvas against the wall at a slim angle, paint yet wet. And still yet: the canvas did not seem to dry, pass as time might. And the housekeeper, who occupied the adjacent room , was perfectly within her rights to complain of the fumes, and to insist that the canvas be moved. Out! Let the portrait find a home of its own! It was suspect, no more and no less, how she’d developed a case of the sinking dizzies ever since the thing had taken up residence in the room next door. Then again, as the housekeeper would readily concede, though perhaps not with this exact phrase, an atmosphere of vertiginous desperation had all but engulfed the Manor. Desire and Defeat. Those girls were giddy in their warring ways. This one locking that one into a cold gray washroom; that one shut- ting this one up in the sour smelling closet under the kitchen stairs. And when one had rendered the other helpless, how she ransacked the place in jealous pursuit of that treasure, sure it had been hidden, hoarded by the other. How the pair of them tore up the carpets, overturned the bins in the pantry, ransacked the linen chest. How they disarranged the furni- ture in the drawing room so that it could never be set to rights, the origi- nal configuration lost to the fervor of their antics. And when it could not be found? The pinching, the hair pulling, the wretched name calling. The wanting saw no pause. The battling saw no end. Shrieking rang out in even the oddest hours, each of those girls intruding into the other’s dreams. Desire slowly smothering Defeat un- der an outsized bell jar. Defeat force feeding Desire shards of glass. And the treasure, the luminescent teardrop glowing in perfect containment, always out of reach, deep in the tomb of its own counsel. The two of them, meanwhile, were left to their own devices. What housekeeper would not wash her hands, leave those girls to their fanatic business. Leave them to their wanting and battling, their battling and wanting. Hire a nursemaid? What fool would take on the job, and be- side, those girls had made short shrift of childhood, packed themselves

56 right out of pinafores and into frocks with not a moment wasted on the transition, each avoiding growing pains by inflicting them on her sister. Out of the ABCs and into those fashion magazines. How they consumed the glossy pages, flipping through with the toss of a jet black braid, the roll of a gem blue eye, the lick of a red red lip. Those vapid volumes littered the gloom of the library. Ill-gotten gains, of course. Stolen, no more and no less, from the Postal Carrier. Poor creature, obliged to call at the Manor once in each season, the stark and the raining, to make the long detour by way of confirmation that there’s nothing to deliver. Nothing coming, nothing going. No solace but a visit in the kitchen with the housekeeper before taking up the satchel, heavy with mail for the regular route that lies a far cry from Aftermath. Lighter that season, you can be sure. Indeed, the poor thing dozed off as the housekeeper chit chatted on, back turned, busy with the putterings of upkeep. And those bad girls pounced upon the opportunity to rifle, depraved with the longing conquest of acquisition. Printed material was the least of their thieving. Outrageous, those mail order outfits the pair of them took to wearing about the Manor. Purple feathers and gold lame; cheap red lace and transparent sequins. Tasteless, scanty, and soon reduced to rags, furthermore, the way the pair of them squirmished over one tawdry item or the next, leaving bits all torn and ruined as if a feather-tailed, sequin-scaled beast had been slaughtered, plucked, and ravenously consumed. Yet how the two of them paraded, still, each a hissing to the other. Time ticked on in Aftermath. The stark season gave way to the raining, the raining back to the stark, and within the walls of the Manor the wanting and battling raged, the battling and wanting, vanity mirror- ing, doubling, doubling. What housekeeper could hope to maintain the kitchen in any kind of order, what with the pilfering of this item or that for an endless succes- sion of do-it-yourself-at-home beauty regimes. How those girls made off with measuring spoons and mixing bowls. The mortar and pestle no less! Caught red handed! Yet no slap of the wrist would deter those filching

57 girls. How they clogged up strainers and ruined spatulas with the gunk of concocted ointments, face masks, hair packs. What housekeeper could maintain the glass un-smudged and the silver polished, the way those girls seized upon the slightest reflective surface to preen, to watch the progress of cold loveliness as it sculpted with harrowing cuts. But why linger on their beauty? Why finger with the tongue the flawless white skin that gleamed as Desire turned slowly this way and that before the washroom mirror, carefully posing at each angle, her long smooth neck the perfect pedestal to her head topped by the intricate, sculptural, up-done coif of her hair, black coils braided then twisted, bound round and round in a high pile. She lifted a white arm, fingers arrayed, circling the majestic affair. Defeat watched at the keyhole, sure, sure as spit that the luminescent teardrop, the treasure of waking and dreaming struggle, lay within the maddening do, secreted, protected by the aura of blue-black gloss. Tears of frustration gave way to a scheming rage. Defeat descend- ed in search of a weapon. A bloody digression. Economically stated, the housekeeper, who’d been busily snipping the truss from a bird about to be carved, took the wrong stand at the wrong time. She would not sur- render her tools, not on any account. And she paid for this error with her hands to the wrist, held with the strength of Defeat gone maniac, then severed with a crazed whack of the carving knife upon the chopping block. Would that it had been the hands of the clock. Desire emerged from the washroom to encounter Defeat, who, let- ting out a cry like unto the wails of the malevolent dead—I’ll have your head—attacked her sister with that ill-gotten pair of kitchen shears. De- sire fled, and Defeat chased, snapping viciously, her own hair flying out, a streaming black battle flag. Through the corridors, down the stairs, into the kitchen, past the unfortunate housekeeper crumpled on the floor in shock and a slick of blood. It was in the servant’s quarters washroom that Defeat cornered her sister, trapped her up against the window. In the frenzy that ensued, attack and defense indistinguishable, those two hellions slashed in vicious tangle until the double mass of their black hair snarled on the pantry floor and the shears were abandoned in favor of throttle. Biting, shrieking; the crash of glass and out the window they

58 hurled, into the whip and slash of the stark season, two mad, shorn girls heaving across the lawn, down the slope, and on to the park in a spiking, spitting, cold stabbed plunge. On they careened, leaving the cruel weather of Aftermath behind, coming to the soft balmy conditions of the gardens internal, those far removed. Past the fresh flowing fountain and ancient flora flourishing. Stem and leaf of a green unchallenged by jealousy. Blossoms the white of absence unjudged by loss. And the scent of hope without delusion. The battle, meanwhile, began to exhaust, lapsed into pushing and shov- ing, then a bit of name calling that likewise petered out, devolved to a listless silence. They shuffled on, tramps in the rags wrought by discord, wandering, empty. Emptiness, finally, as animal understanding: That the treasure over which they had ever fought was ever lost, or at least, never found. A piece of the heart of defeat imbued with the blood of desire. That luminous core, left behind. Left to layer for its own protection. Left to its own gestation. Deeper the wandering took them, until they reached the modest gate at the outlying edge of the gardens, and passed through, finding themselves given up to the untended meadow with that low stone wall obscured by mist running along its far edge. It was toward the stone wall the girls headed, trudging quite heed- lessly over the mother’s grave, now spottily grown over by tannish grass. Thus Desire and Defeat crossed the limen of Aftermath. What became of either of them, beyond the wall, is a matter of some speculation. It was the old groundsman that heard the cries. He tracked the sound, or rather let it pull him, through and through the gardens, and then through the little gate to the site of the mother’s grave. He knelt, broke ground. He began to dig with his trowel, then with the rake of his hands as the cries grew louder. Faithfully, he dug, removing bluish earth until the body of the mother was revealed—cool and casketless, her arms rounded, hands clasped as if to frame the gaping cavity of her belly. Within, an infant struggled for voice.

59 But How Distracted We Become!

Despair did not remain in the playhouse with her story forever. No, no, the bell rang out to summon her, summon her back to the Manor and she made her way, getting, as we recall, quite soaked through, wet as wet can be, not troubling to seek out the dry protection of the light. Never bothering to take cover. She preferred, it seemed, to suffer herself to be drenched rather than… But we do not presume to articulate the preferences of Despair. We cannot read her mind, cannot hold the volume of her con- sciousness, or place it down, bound within a circle of light upon the table. We cannot lift the cover of Despair. Can’t crack her. We cannot open, thumb or leaf or page through, cannot find the relevant section, the pas- sage in question of that unidexed work in progress that grows more ex- tensive daily. We cannot skim. We cannot scan for meaning. Quite the little mystery in her little ways. Ahh, well, girls will be girls. A little rain never hurt. Never did any permanent damage. It has no ill intentions. In fact, it has no intentions at all, no project but to fall, to run its soaking course until those fat black-green clouds are drained, grow skin- ny, pale, wispish, washed out, whispers of themselves, no longer able to support the sky above. The clouds are crushed as the sky drops, closes in, binds, hardening as it comes. The earth shrinks back from the lowering, locking sky, draws back, bares its hollows. Exposed, the leavings of the wind begin to fret, to kick up, to waken the cold from its sleep in the branch and bush, to switch and turn, to cut the lubbish layer of dull from the cold’s sides and flanks. The cold is thus honed for the stark season’s work. The greenery responds with rapid shrivel, discoloring brown to fawn to ashen, then disintegrates entirely, leaving bare the branch and bush. And the light? No match for the sky’s steely surface. Shafts that come break on contact, shatter, grind out gray white, strength dashed. Slowly, slowly, weakly, weakly, weakly the ghostly leavings of the light filter through the sky, giving no warmth to the retreating earth, barely reaching the earth at all before being taken, swept away by the wind or sliced to nothing by the cold. Greyness, then, the clock’s whole circle.

60 And there. The cycle complete. There. Here we are, in the stark season. We will weather it. It will be gotten through, and gotten through again. Suffered and expected. We will continue, remain. We take the long view. We picture it. Thus we fill the emptiness. Give it color. Shape. Composition. But let us not jump ahead. Let us not skip to the future when Despair has only just arrived for our little chat. Let us orient. Let us get our bearings. Let us take this opportunity. Let us relish this proximity. Let us consider closely and at close range. No need to demure, Dear. Let us look at you. Let us take a nice long look.

The Figure of the Subject

Not to place undo importance on appearances. Not to overem- phasize the matter. Not to lay undo stress, but Despair can hardly be said to be looking well. Pity. And at such an inopportune moment. We hate to see her thus. To picture her thus. We grieve for the vanity of Despair. Her skin—naturally pale, a translucent, pourless white, has taken on a pallor. A weak greenish tone spreads beneath the surface. A gloomy luminescence. The complexion of the wraith of herself. Lends a drama to those dark circles under her eyes. Puffed smudges of deep, pitchy purple. Shadow bruises. Shadow bruises of the heels of hands. Heels that pushed hard against the ridges of bone that define the lower sockets of her eyes. The palms of those hands covered duel dropped lids, cupping, pressing, pinning the velvet lengths of her lashes in a lock against lift. Beneath, the finger of the eye read over the map of a distant orb island, traced lightly over thin sketchy red trails that spindle destination- less in blue-white surround, blue-white surrounding the ringed buffer to a black void center. The finger lingered at a split, at a divide in the red trail; either way leaves off, abandoned in the blue-white. The fin- ger hovered at the fork. Then, with the edge of the nail, began to probe

61 downward, inward. It began to bore, tunneling toward the void where the vision of the last in the line of the Daughters of Aftermath sits, for- ever sits, a motionless and perfect likeness of herself. Tremor, forehead quaking, silky eyebrows seized in a violent pucker. Hands flinging away; lids springing open to bare eyes of amber, copper, resin in a powdered crush. Eyes the lightest dark, the darkest light. Eyes drowning, temples straining, mahogany oval of a mouth gap- ing wide, collapsing, gasping. Tsunami in from off the coast. Flood reeks havoc. Features wracked. Skin a ruin with salt damage & etc. Despair appears to have missed her beauty rest. She appears to have lost sleep, found it impossible to find in the wreckage of that crying jag, found it no place hidden in the tangle of bedclothes. Tossing and turning to no avail. But we presume. We do not in fact know what dear Despair may or may not have been looking for. In any case, she didn’t get a wink. Unless, of course, we blinked. Give or take this or that unsubstantiated instant, how tired the poor dear must be. Even considering a longer lapse in observation, how mortally exhausted. How entirely drained. We can only imagine. We may well shudder to think. We put it out of mind. Yet what a little trooper. Despair sits before us, the soul of com- posure. She sits upright but not stiff, alert but calm, present but ever so non-confrontational. And still. Stock still, breath regular. Features set, gaze evenly fixed on the middle distance, expression neutral yet open, open to interpretation. A slight tilt of the head, a slight twist in the trunk. A hand in the lap, a hand curled over the arm of the chair. A lovely pose. Positively framable! She’s a natural! Lucky us. We could observe her this way forever. And remain per- fectly content. Speaking strictly in terms of form. Indeed upon examina- tion, the content is not just exactly as we might have wished. In the sense aforementioned. Not to in any way objectify (or force the family resemblance), but she looks like Death warmed over. Not to harp on the negative, but the girl is a positive fright, an absolute strung-out wreck, and that new hair- cut, we must emphatically state, does nothing for her. Nothing at all.

62 Tossing and turning left off. Bed clothes thrown back; the strike of match, wick lit followed by movement toward the chamber door. Open, shut; soft click followed by silent steps along the corridor. Mottled dark encroaching and overlapping the edges of the close dim flicker of the candle. The flame’s flicker reflected, flickeringly illu- minating the reflection of brow, temple, jaw, neck. These shifting, turn- ing beneath dark outcrop angles jutting in all degrees, every which way awry, sawing in staccato and pause. It was difficult to see at that odd hour, with little light upon the subject. Difficult to make it out. But sure enough. There she was: Wakeful Despair, hacking away in the washroom mirror with a pair of kitchen sheers. Perhaps Greiva will simply never learn to keep better track of that fateful item, so compelling, it seems, to girls at a certain stage in life. Indeed, the haircut is a pity. Those savagely close cropped, bare patches. That crooked, jagged bang. The odd sticking cowlicks. The vic- tim look. A fashion statement of some kind? As if Aftermath Manor were some kind of beauty school gone haywire. Curious. We are curious, because the haircut is a downright shame. Unsightly, really. Difficult to get over it. Difficult to look past it. Really sticks in our craw. A decidedly less than attractive do. Rather unfortunate timing, what with the painter due to arrive. Yet appearances are not everything. A professional sees within, sees past the wreck of a coif that tops her troubled brow, past the sunken pallor of her complexion, past the blood- shot whites and abandoned depths of her copper eyes. Not to mention the shivery, haunted quality. The gray misties, clinging about her, as if the girl were taken by a terrible chill. But of course, such a chill would not surprise us. After all, Despair cannot absent herself from the laws of cause and effect. A chill would not surprise us at all, given where she has been, and at what hour, and under which atmospheric conditions. Out of doors. The most odd of hours. The stark season. The washroom left in darkness, mirror left to reflect cold black absence. Backtrack along the corridor. Chamber door passed, summit of the grand sweep of the stairway gained. The descent of Despair, bare feet

63 slipping out from beneath her gown. seeking stair after stair. Quite the gothic little vision with those kitchen shears gripped at her side. A glint on the shut metal jaws. The landing hit. Here, a pause, candle clutched at chest level, flame steady in the draftless protection of interior space formed and buffered by the prudent construction of Aftermath. Nothing so durable as stone, nothing so reliable, nothing so set on its response to the test of time: Still standing. And of course, the staff plays its role, Greiva and Gardener, house- keeper and groundsman. Maintenance and preservation! Certainly it has come to our attention that both the house and grounds are in rather a sorry state of disrepair. Yet we do not micro-manage. We cannot con- cern ourselves with every little thing. And the poor things try. To main- tain. To preserve. They putter about their tasks. Greiva, for example, nightly in the drawing room, without fail, as if she had a standing appointment. There she is, up until the oddest hour, laboring. Arranging. Or actually, re-arranging. Re-arranging the furni- ture. Rather compulsive, in our view. Like unto a personal crusade of some kind. Here she was, here she has been, here she is, pushing ottomans with the broadside of her foot, bumping sofas along with her backside, hauling end tables from one side of the room to the other in the tong grip of her handless wrists. Dogged & etc. How we remember when our little charge first came upon her thus. Despair was just a slip of a thing, and had wakened in her chamber, which was all green gold with the glow of light from the rain without. Quietly and without preamble, she pushed the coverlet aside, rose, and crept down to the drawing room. She stood at the threshold, observing Greiva for some time. And then, when Greiva had reached a moment of rather dire struggle involving a large wing chair and the sharply cresting wave of car- pet trapped beneath it, dear Despair approached, turned her eyes upward, and uttered her first word. Or at least, the first we could decipher. The others, the ma-mas and da-das, we did not bother to decode. We cannot concern ourselves with every little thing. But indeed and at last, how ador- able it was to hear her utter a recognizable syllable! That being:—Help.

64 Most certainly, her vocabulary has increased since then. And the stealth of her creeping? Retained. A glide past the threshold of the drawing room, Greiva huffing within, fully engaged in her toil. On then, through the dark cold cor- ridors of Aftermath, the great Manor of her raising. Or her upbringing, we ought to say. Upbringing is very much the better way to phrase our meaning, lest unpleasant notions occur, come catapulting over the wall of Aftermath, come storming the place with the full power of suggestion and leap to mind armed with a battery of chilling images: Aftermath Manor demolished, reduced to rubble, re- duced to a heap of cold stones. We are not, in short, immune to the power of the homonym. On to the kitchen. The kitchen shears deposited in a drawer, where doubtless they have always belonged. Indeed, what a good girl. We have always had a soft spot for Despair. Never mind how little we understand her, or her night wanderings, her threadings through Aftermath, her quiet padding out of the kitchen and on to the servants quarters, into their winding reaches. She hangs a right into the washroom. And then, for reasons entirely unknown to us, Despair exits the building via the washroom window. She hits the ground and sets off across the lawn, nightdress plastered to her form by the wind, which whips and funnels, plunging her to the bottom of the slope, into the park, then on, to the gardens within. And from here, from here in what manner does Despair continue? What way does she pick, and to what end? Which course does she fol- low through the landscape of the park; how does she wind amongst its features? Sight, dimmed. Upon which walks does the booted tread of Despair fall? Through which gates does she pass? The track, obscured. The movement of De- spair blurs. In her wake, the blur traces, extends out to the blurring bil- low of her nightdress. At some turn, some change of direction, some alteration of her course through the hedge-maze, we lose her. Vision, failed.

65 Oh the limits of Custodianship! We make no excuses, we simply state the case. Despair appears to vanish. What type of time then passes? We cannot see and we cannot say. What does she think she’s doing? We do not conjecture. No, we do not hazard a guess as to what she intends, what she could possibly mean to accomplish, risking her death of a chill. Out of doors; the oddest of hours; the stark season. It was the bell that summoned her back. In the nick of time, per- haps. For what is Aftermath but the essence of her? We take the long view, beginning with this good, long look at the figure of our little charge. The figure of the subject. The dimensions are yet to be determined, the mood, the rendering. The background, the palette. And artistic license will of course have to be considered. The undertaking is yet to commence. The future of Despair is yet to be real- ized, yet to be painted, yet to be framed and hung in the Gallery Hall. The future of Despair: to remain in Aftermath. The construct safe. No change. Safe as safe can be. We wait for the painter to arrive, but not for long and not for nothing. Hasn’t Despair been helpful, striking such a perfect pose? Hasn’t she been accommodating, barely moving a muscle? Hasn’t she obliged? Hasn’t she been willing? And doesn’t all of this bode well for the future? Mark her before she breaks.

66 MC Hyland “Bird, how beautifully you sing!” 

O makes a hole in the firmament & we treble through.

Under cover of high notes, the skin slips under covers. The wolf hiding.

This song could be your bright bridge into sleep:

ovary stolen from sleeping child floweret buried in the bridal bouquet

Your poor mouth sore from clenching. Redder than the rose.

o wolf, millstone, angered engendered nightingale o strewn emblem, vacuous, pulsative

Long tunnel made from birdsong, the sky arcing meanly. Inky smell outside in the milky night.

Where are you? Talking to the wind, wedded to the ropemaker’s daughter.

This other world on you, your body fits strange.

67 Lesley Jenike Three Enter the Dark Wood 

It’s the one about the bears and their blonde: In their many beds I left many cells, called my multiple personalities down, their faces to the sky a slide show of cheap reference, chanteuses orphaned by a wave of bear. Life should have piano accompaniment— so as Goldilocks (in my delusion) I staged a three-part musical. Flowers crooned. I burned the script into my hand: Ingénue crosses a whistling Mason-Dixon toward a tomorrow not to be believed, puts down among the blooms, hums a tune, loses her mind. Mind wanders to a stage, becomes a voice, multifarious, shot to the balcony. A sound engineer asks her to say her name into the mic. Test. Test. Test. She writes three chapters. She sleeps in three beds. There are three movements to this, one too soft, two too hard but Child

Mind falls asleep, dreams of wood, whole houses under her weight crumbling. Perfection is cruel, the detonator, what unbraids her hair, those three strands forgiving themselves for the trouble of coming together.

68 Kamila Lis Two Poems  De vilde svaner (Wild Swans)

That first time I saw myself miraculous, we baked swan-fat into bread when Satan whispered, “I can’t think of anything that can make me smile like you can and although you are perfect you have come too early and are here where something laughing will be shaped deliberately, ball of a palm pressed into moist clay.” I thought Andersen carved white and angular again, like the sons of twilight or luminous alabaster wrought with finest blade, too beautiful to contemplate unless revised as Satan by the blender with the custard, and maybe I’ve left of him a lovely bastard who, cloud-headed and too delicate rests a forehead on my wrist and whose wings are flimsy. But this is different, this will last and so she lives the phrase, “the garden well is there for drowning” but I have loved him in the grottos, have seen green chips beneath sprays of jade and have stayed to soak blood into linen strips, to rinse them with the bandages. Later, he will pull one feathered rib from three, (“and when your hands can scarcely dig, I will be near you”) will scoop stones enough for a face where she would lay herself to wait, to say, “I can’t think of anything that can make me—”

69 Hansel

There is a body here somewhere, a leechwife who mixes green fire in tin drums by dusk, braids the tourniquets, resets bones.

But this happened years ago, before the asymmetry of crystals, “a din like glass I thought, how easy it is to die.”

Remember the leechwife and the drums, she tried but what if this is October in Beslan, if it is for us to bury our children.

Think “strange cuneiform darkness,” the rotation of polarized light, or Saint Lucy with her knives.

70 Ashley McWaters Seven Poems  Annunciation

The student approaches, snowblind, the door tongueless, the upstairs window an eyelash of tired light. She slants toward the bell. A cloud, thin as ribbon, escapes her mouth. Her hands, woven to knots, claim nothing. To weight: dark pockets with orphan needle, skein of violet yarn, scissors, a Bible and verses.

About ringing the bell, she is nearly ambivalent. Ink bleeds the folds of her map, now running translucent, now glowing. The house is not certain she is there, the storm laces her in, she is dark. Pray arrive in dogeared mythical disguise, the letter had seemed to say, as we never tire of stories while attending to handwork. Pray deliver fine tunes from apples, verses from hatpins. This is to get to us. This is to blow in.

She turns the chime, hears the carpet stomp ornately. The angle widens before her with its fingers, their five-pointed woman. Somewhere behind her is fire. Woman reaches against her falter, takes her hands. This is to make pieces, she says. This is how to hold it down. This is to eat it. This is to let it slowly drop. To learn how to weave, how to outweigh it. This:

71 February [Brownell]

I weave a train its nameless tracks, late and claimless, scumbled thimble for blessing. No owl or bright bride, I weave myself to lace, to let in air. Tattooing the seam, me and an antlered hare, white horse, sheep. We make our way down to the hem—how charming the flutter on that fateful day. Such overrated liberties! I dream the spring when someone steals a part of me. But I remain a heartsore, violent thing, all sour and untuned organs. There is no wedding the things we want; nothing to teach alone. I tutor a flower, I guess, to learn the reach of the moon; hold another needle to stem the ache.

72 February [Student]

Another ache to stem the moon, this needle draws me through the dark. Having no use for any useful thing, I was deemed a recluse, sent straightaway to a lady’s school to get pleated; I’ll learn to yodel perhaps, to pray in six languages, to dance with a pet dog. I promised my aunts to please them. Now I’ll be a fool with a feather penwiper, ever taken aback and swooning. No, I am a bent-pronged fork instead, my teacher the knife with a surgeon’s heart: she took my hands, but when she parts her lips, I annoy with a silver kick. So have no pity: I stay and prick.

73 Letter

Best is to be alive— The lightning playeth—all the while— And mourning splits her pods of flame— Till all the memory is full.

I felt my life with both my hands— And turned it round and round and round And—when I dropped that yellow fork It buried deep—beneath the ground.

It left—the little golden tint That meant some news to me: I die for Beauty—daily still— Pray—have no modest needs—

74 Metamorphosis

At first, the occupation seemed harmless. A basket and its regular implements: thimble, needle, floss, scissors, some tape for mending. She would count the needles in the book at night; she was that kind of girl. She whitewashed a certain loneliness with diligence. She worked until the days became little ovals of incidents, like fingernails to be shed. Then she began to notice her instruments everywhere: scissors in a cereal bowl, spools of thread filling the bathroom sink, a single thimble beneath her pillow. Needles under every book on her shelf appeared to be trying to peck their way back to their own pages. Even in the garden, she would find some glinting metal cast sidelong in the dirt. The chair she sat in to sew long hours became lumpy with thimbles and floss. She began a ruthless collecting, filling glass jars and handbags and shoeboxes and pails, shoving them under the bed at night. She grew more worried that a visitor would notice something was amiss, so began keeping to herself. The kitchen had become a place of such terror, with objects spilling out of every cupboard, she ceased eating altogether. Still she worked daily, with more and more fervor, driven by a stubborn resolve against them. It was her hands they wanted, or perhaps her eyes. The soft undersides

75 of her arms grew pale and spindly. Her hair grew white and a soft down covered her body. Her belly distended. Her mind distracted, she was only comfortable in corners. She wove only in white. Snow finally fell, buried everything. It was pleasant, for a moment, watching every last notion disappear there. She crept back to the house, certain the story was done, trailing a thin white filament from her back.

76 Webwork

They housed in window-locks, between seldom-used pots, threaded among basket-reeds, in old spool-holes. Once she dreamed a nest beneath the pillow and woke to find it so. And once a horrible fire from a candle flared and burned the widow living there. Some days she found one braided in her hair. All she mimicked webs in gauze, coddled, waking suddenly to threaded clouds underfoot, the world’s borderless white, its furred migrations. Too, every moth drew in perfect silver to growing nets she everywhere willed. All summer. All fall. Now snow flies gaudily even in diagonal nightfall and she builds more still.

Here, formal white filament roars in wingbeats from every curve of the house. This old habit of brooming turned new love of mesh interlacing, more flesh, more knots of food.

77 Keeping House

Know this: I folded the indecipherable things into my shoulder blades. I mitered the corners of our sheets at the foot of the bed. I hid songs under your tongue. I swept glass into the soles of my feet. I stitched my name into your shirts, stowed my fortune in the back of your throat.

You will forget this: I buried your teeth at the base of my spine. I stacked blankets in the closet, swallowed the hollows between their edges. I cut patterns from old cloth and dreamed my hair across the kitchen table, waiting for scissors, the short fall down, the dark.

78 Barbara Jane Reyes The Duyong Series  Duyong 1

At midnight, the old men gather with oil lanterns aboard their fishing boats. With rosaries in hand, they stab the water with machetes. Their sons say, “Do not be foolish. There are no more mermaids here. It is the crocodiles who are stealing our young ones.”

Crocodiles! Ridiculous.

Crocodiles are not slick. My dolphin skin withstands the men’s machetes. But make no mistake; the old men give me many scars.

From tangles of nets in the shallows, the old men cut me loose. They pray I may quickly find open sea. But do not think this is kindness.

As for their young ones, their bodies come slipping deep into my home. Hands and feet, bound. Dissident bodies full of holes, blooming blood flowers in my water. I sing them to sleep in my garden. If the old men only knew what care I take, bedding the sleeping sons of fishermen, stroking supple skin.

79 Duyong 2

You are the dreaming girl who walks outside of herself, into tidelands’ star jasmine vine weaving, dripping sea spray. The air pulls your tiny feet, and you wiggle bare toes in the cool sand.

You are the rosy-faced girl who walks outside of herself. Tongues of moonlight penetrate banana leaf, coconut palm canopies. Chirping above you, dragonflies buzz and flit, deep magenta fire. Golden leafbirds and fairy bluebirds call you back to your father. You are the girl who does not heed her father’s twittering messengers.

You listen to the story of branches, dipping their oversweet pink fruit into the swelling sea, touching smoothed wet stone. Wading waist-deep past the old men’s boats, you tangle your mangrove fingers in the thick black ropes of your hair. You are the girl sloughing off dampened skin, blooming jade green, wild silken tendrils.

You remember your father’s faint once upon a time. Something about danger. Something about the water who appears a woman before you. She takes your hand, and your new skin ripens midnight violet. You are the girl whose new tail mimics a silver slicing razor.

80 Duyong 3 Or, Gang Rape

I hear of men who love the sea cow. Pale-skinned men, long delirious upon the balmy sea, they crawl ashore hungry, engorged. At the sight of them, she cries, and they think this is a siren song.

They ravish her stinking skin, her fleshy teats, with so many groping man hands and wet, open man mouths. One by one, they enter her body and spill so much seed. She cries, and with their spears, they slit her open, a feast of almond oil and slow cooked veal.

She cries, and I am certain my song does not resemble hers.

81 Duyong 4

There is a man whose gods tell him to take the ocean as his consort. Car- ried in the womb of his lacquered palanquin, he arrives at his summer , laden with moonstone and pearl. His silk spun robes of brocade lotus blossom drop upon the sand. He enters her.

And he waits. For many hours he waits.

I know this because I see his tender waterbird legs, his soft, hairy feet, pale and prune. The fool, how he treads, naked and flaccid, not knowing I am all around him, not knowing how close I come, and how I bare my claws. Oh, but how I resist swiping.

Instead, I sleep. I descend to my garden, and I sleep.

Into the dawn the man waits, and only his gods know what he expects to occur. Alone and shivering, he crawls ashore; he swears his attendants to secrecy.

82 Duyong 5

I am the daughter of a woman gathering seaweed pods. Against her husband’s bidding, she wades too far into the bay, and a warm wave touches her belly. She wishes for it to caress her cheek. In reverie, she closes her eyes, and the warm wave pulls at her shoulders. Slowly she submerges her swollen body, and this is how my mother’s womb be- comes the sea.

83 Timothy Schaffert The Young Widow of Barcelona 

uicide note? the minister asked, and Eve thought of music, remem- s bering, listening for wilting notes of suicide in snippets of her late husband’s voice. The evening of the night the too-many pills did him in, Stag (whose real name was Stan, but everybody had called him Stag for as long as anyone could remember) looked never more beautiful, in just jeans and a V-neck T, his feet bare, his curls wet and sticking to his fore- head and cheeks. He’d been drinking for hours, even in the shower they’d taken to- gether, his forehead pressed against the tiled wall as he swigged from his Löwenbräu and sang, his eyes closed, old disco love songs turned sullen by his slow, throaty croon. “No, he left no note,” Eve lied, and she became aware of the beat of her heart, the quick thumping causing her skin to scratch against the scrap of paper folded and tucked beneath her bra strap. On the paper, in ink from a leaky ballpoint, was her husband’s waywardness with words, his misspellings, his pinched penmanship, all poorly articulating his semi-catchy riff on “goodbye, cruel world.” In the year since Stag died, people often asked Eve if she’d seen signs. Had there been tendencies and inclinations? He never breathed a word about it, she’d say, though, in fact, suicide was all he’d spoken of in his last months of life. In the quiet evenings, their TV long since kicked-in Elvis style, he sketched Rube Goldberg-ian methods of death—intricate and pretty portraits of self-destruction, involving itchy-triggered rifles and butcher knives, broken and the rapid blades of electric fans. In his artwork, you could off yourself with the delicate flick of a toe that set off pulleys and cogs, sent marbles rolling through pipes, caused faucets to drip-drip-drip, fatally weighing down teacups.

84 Eve’s minister was a woman numb from the waist down. Her every sermon incorporated a retelling of her accident, each Sunday morning a broken record of If I’d only this and If I’d only that, that turned people off and left her with only a minor congregation. But Eve worshipped Rev. Knipp’s persistent regret—the reverend was devoted to a kind of in- struction that could take years to articulate. Rev. Knipp’s impractical and antique wheelchair had a seat and back of wicker with torn caning and her hands were heavy-laden with vintage rings. One morbid one trapped a tiny spider in amber-colored resin. No, trapped wasn’t right, morbid wasn’t right, for the spider’s wispy legs, its whole fragile body was shockingly unbroken. That spider had a tomb worthy of a mummy queen. It was the anniversary of the day of Stag’s death, one full lonely year gone, but Eve had never mentioned it in church before, had never requested any special prayers. Rev. Knipp conducted services in what had once been Barcelona’s movie theater on the town square before the factory closed, before people left in droves, and the streets fell deadly quiet, swiftly, as suddenly as in a zombie flick. “And how is that heart of yours?” asked Rev. Knipp. “Stitching up? Still broken?” The entire congregation, about seven people, sat in the front row of the theater. Rev. Knipp pushed herself forward, creeping ahead crookedly in her crippled wheelchair—its warped left wheel wob- bling. Despite the state of the rest of her, with her many rusty rings with empty settings, Rev. Knipp dressed in a professional tweed suit, and a blouse with a ruffly, lacy collar interwoven with a ribbon a robin’s-egg blue. She daily twisted her long braids atop her head, riddling her hair with bobby pins and inconspicuous combs, making for an elegant cin- namon swirl. “It’s been worse,” Eve said. Stag had talked a lot about suicide even before they’d married, but each day that he hadn’t killed himself, the threat of it had softened, turned sexy almost. His talk of suicide had come to represent nothing more to Eve than the thing that made him irresistibly bad for her. So when he finally did it, it was unimaginable. “I often think my accident was a kind of suicide attempt,” the Rev. said, pulling a bobby pin from her lips like picking out a fishbone, then she

85 pinned back a curl that had fallen, sweetly Eve thought, to uncoil along her cheek. “I used to drive drunk all the time, knowing that I shouldn’t, always waking in horror the next morning. I knew full well my accident was inevitable. A prophecy that I didn’t do squat about.” The Rev. Knipp had been on the interstate just after dark, the autumn night still early, but she’d already been falling-down drunk. She’d turned off onto an exit and hit two road workers carrying slung between them the carcass of a deer that had been hit earlier that night. The men had been making the road safe, free of dangerous road-kill, in their protective-orange suits. One of the men died; the other was in a wheelchair now, too. The of it all seemed to save Rev. Knipp from complete despair, seemed to hint at a sick and divine sense of humor. A mean-spirited god is a god nonetheless, preached the Rev. Knipp, and better, quite honestly, than nothing. Eve’s hair was still up in pink and blue second-hand curlers the size of frozen lemonade cans, her fingernails a frosted gingerbread plum. Her friend Ophelia demanded they go out together later, for steaks and gin martinis, to keep the night from falling into utter blackness. Though Eve wanted only to sulk alone all day and night, she felt sorry for Ophelia. Since the factory had closed, Ophelia had been living in the sleeper of a semi she’d driven for the company and bought for cheap at an auction. Ophelia had done what she could to make it homey, pasting the walls of the sleeper with pages torn from tabloids—all photos of celebrities out without makeup. Ophelia had dubbed her old delivery route “The Delu- sions of Grandeur Tour,” driving as she had through miniscule Nebraska towns with historical names they hadn’t earned—Cairo, Milan, Crete, Genoa, even Waterloo. Beginning, maybe, in the 1930s the town’s factory churned out a pink coconut candy, fuzzy-looking like a bedroom slipper. The candy had somehow become popular as a Mother’s Day sweet, sold in collect- ible gold- tins. The company went kaput after a few botulism-laced batches made their way to store counters, killing at least fourteen across the country. There’d been no saving the company’s reputation. The chil- dren of the mothers, even the grown ones, would not be consoled. Rev. Knipp ended the service with a rambling prayer, but now that Eve had finally spoken, she wanted to speak more and more. She needed

86 the congregation to know that she could never have known anything, despite the hundreds and hundreds of warning signs. Once, she wanted to tell them, his appendix burst, and he was genuinely terrified by the pain of it. Stag very much feared death, she wanted to tell them. When he came through it, Eve cried and laughed and talked too much in the hospital room. “Who put a nickel in you?” he’d said with a wink, his eyes all wet.

A man who wrote poetry followed her after the service, to her li- quor store, which she couldn’t open, by law, until after noon. One poem that he’d once read in church had been about a pack of mangled dogs that escaped a basement where they’d been pitted against each other in fights. The dogs devoured the throats of their masters and escaped to wander yowling through the sandhills, all the mutts far too ugly to be taken in by anyone else. But he’d written some nice poems too, pretty ones, like one about a woman peeling an orange in the wintertime, the juice stinging the cracks in the dry skin of her hands. In another poem, a woman wears a black velvet dress on Christmas Day, the front of it speckled with the powdered sugar that had fallen from the Mexican teacake she bit into. “I can’t sell anything yet,” Eve told him as she unlocked the front door. “It’s only 11:30.” “Who’s asking to buy?” he said, smiling. He stuck his hands boyish- ly in the front pockets of his baggy plaid pants, and slumped his shoul- ders, and looked down at the toes he wiggled in his flip-flops. “You could invite me to join you in a glass of vino. You shouldn’t be alone on a day like today.” He wore an old fedora you’d call jaunty. “I won’t be alone,” she said. She flicked a finger against a curler. “My friend is taking me out for steaks tonight. We’re getting all dolled up.” She held both hands up to her eyes and wiggled her fingers. “Fake eyelashes and everything.” “But your afternoon could be terrible and long,” he said, smiling again, squinting from the little bit of sun.

87 “You’re like one of your yowling mutts,” she said, because, she just now realized, the dogfight dogs were for this whole town of vagrants. Eve had had only one other conversation with the poet outside of church, a few weeks before, both sitting by happenstance at the diner counter having coffee and eggs at three in the afternoon. She felt jeal- ous of the beauty of the women in his poems, so she told him something she halfway wanted him to steal from her life. She’d been born with a cleft palate, and when she was a little girl they fixed it, unflattening her face by putting a shaving from her hipbone behind her lip. The surgery left a mostly unnoticeable , but when men kissed her, she told him, she could feel them worrying the scar with their tongues, their tongues returning to it again and again during the kisses, like when you’re a kid and you keep touching the tip of your tongue to the hole where a tooth used to be.

Eve didn’t believe in ghosts, but Ophelia believed in nothing but. “All those weird emails a person gets,” Ophelia said, dousing her steak with ketchup. “Not the ads for Canadian prescriptions and for big dicks and big titties, but the ones that you open up and they don’t want you to buy anything or do anything at all. They’re like random words, sentences in weird order. Like gobbledygook, but not quite. They almost make sense. I don’t know. I just know that none of us are really here.” Stag had worked days at the nursing home and would come home at night with residents’ names for his aches and injuries. “Sophie Rob- inson,” he’d say, pointing at his bum knee. Or, “Melba Page,” rubbing his elbow. The crick in his shoulder was Mr. Bailey. The stab in the small of his back was Maryellen Boone. The nursing home’s equipment for lift- ing people down from their high hospital beds and up from their low bathtubs, machinery meant to save the young workers from growing old too soon, was faulty and unreliable and sometimes took too much mus- cle to operate. So Stag lifted and pulled on his own, and he’d feel each

88 pain the second it found its place in his body. Some of his lingering aches were named after people who’d long since died. So that’s something like having ghosts, right? Eve suggested to Ophelia. Ophelia neither agreed nor disagreed. She ordered another mar- tini with bleu-cheese-stuffed olives. “At some point you’ll realize that Stag’s been with you all along,” she said. “Something that doesn’t seem odd right now, you’ll realize has been odd for months. Maybe a necklace that’s never in the jewelry box where it’s supposed to be. Maybe a clock in your house makes a funny kind of tick. As your grief fades more and more, you’ll be open to noticing these kinds of things. It might be a re- flection in a window, or the smell of cologne mixed with cigarette smoke and black licorice and, I don’t know, newspaper ink or something, a mix of familiar smells that’s suddenly in the air, for just a second, when you turn your head. Your imagination will find him.” Ophelia lifted her martini glass in a toast to Stag. “Eve, do you mind if I say that I miss Stag too? Miss him something terrible? Do I get to say that?” “Only if you give me your olives,” Eve said, wanting to cheer Oph- elia up. Back in her apartment above the liquor store later that night, Eve could hear music in the tea kettle as the boiling water cooled and the steam lifted from the spout, the bubbles of the water and the ting of the metal of the pot combining to sound like a song on a radio in another room. It wouldn’t be unlike Stag for his ghost to music in an old kettle, Eve thought. She took her cup of nighttime chamomile and sat at her vanity to riffle through her jewelry, looking for all the pieces Stag had given her over the years. They were like gifts that a boy would give his mother—earrings shaped like ladybugs, a mood ring, a necklace with a tiny, tuneless silver whistle dangling from the end of it. Eve even kept her jewelry in an old Mother’s Day candy tin, a factory relic that she wasn’t sure how she’d come to have. It said “Mom” in sparkly purple cursive across the top. Eve had never liked coconut. The factory’s Mother’s Day tins had traditionally been sold wrapped around with a white ribbon, “Made, with love, in Barcelona, Nebraska,” written across it. That simple ribbon made the gift a beloved

89 icon, a charming novelty, what candy corn was to Halloween, what Peeps were to Easter. Eve cried for the first time on this sad anniversary, close to mid- night, not from thoughts of Stag at all, but rather from thoughts of her mother, still very much alive. Following the surgery for Eve’s cleft pal- ate, tiny pieces of her hipbone worked free onto her tongue. The bone chips she picked from her mouth looked and felt like coral, pocked and rough. She’d been in the fourth grade, and had loved how the floating bone specks made her strange, reminded her of “Toads and Diamonds,” the fairy tale about two sisters: snakes and pollywogs fell from the lips of one when she spoke; pearls and rosebuds fell from the lips of the other. But then it seemed the bone would never stop breaking apart, and she wondered who would love her when she was older, who would want to kiss her? Who would want to taste, to risk swallowing, fragments of her skeleton? “You’ll tell them you’re a ,” Eve’s mother told her, matter- of-factly. “Your father rescued you from the sea, and you grew legs. But the waves still lift and fall inside you. The tide still beats against your lungs and your heart. Broken shells still wash up on your tongue.” By the time she was in the fifth grade, the bone stopped chipping away. Stag used to say he’d wished he’d known her then, when the ocean tossed and turned inside her mermaid soul. “Did you wear a little star- fish bra?” he’d said as they lay in bed on a Sunday afternoon. He gently lifted her T-shirt as she giggled, and he licked her nipple, then kissed his way down to her bellybutton. “Did you write love letters in squid ink?” For the first time since Stag’s death, Eve could remember, exactly, the feel of his breath on her naked skin, the soft, hot puff of it, the smell of it, of vanilla-scented toothpaste and the orange-flavored liqueur Eve sold in tiny bottles at the cash register. But Eve did not believe Ophelia. These were not the signs of the presence of a ghost but rather something much more welcome. This was simply lucidity, which she thought she lost when she lost Stag. “Mrs. Ashby,” the poet called from beneath her window. “Oh, Mrs. Ashby.”

90 Eve walked to the window with her cup of tea. “Go away,” she called back. “Go home. Crawl into bed. Sleep. The store’s closed.” Eve had stayed upstairs all afternoon, distracting herself with The Betsy, a she’d plucked from the lost-and-found at the laundromat. People called up to her window all day long, banged on the liquor store door and slipped notes beneath it with urgent requests. None of them were concerned about Eve on this anniversary. They wanted her to call them, or make a delivery. They cried and cried for their bottles. Stag used to joke that he and she were in the only growth indus- tries in the town: the nursing home riddled with the elderly who had nowhere else to go; the liquor store like a medicine chest. “I brought you a drink,” the poet said. He held up a square-cornered bottle of something home-brewed.

“Where are we going?” Eve asked, probably later than she should have, she realized. He drove his red convertible, top down, far past the town’s outer limits and onto gravel road. Eve didn’t know much about the poet, could never remember his name. She’d first seen him a few months ago, early summer, at a dumb carnival on the courthouse lawn, the mayor’s feeble effort to boost morale with rented games: a wheel of fortune, a ring toss, a popgun shooting range. The poet, in a bowtie, manned the test of strength, but few of the town’s men had any inter- est in demonstrating how weak, how depleted, they’d grown. Only the young thugs who’d been taking advantage of the town’s bad luck by building drug labs in the basements of empty houses and shooting out the windows of parked cars for fun, only they would accept the mallet. Their scrawny junk-shot arms could just send the up a few feet, but that didn’t keep them from laughing their asses off with scorn. Eve had run a booth at the carnival selling watermelon margaritas. She didn’t really notice the poet until late evening came, and the small crowd shrunk even more. The poet and the other low-rent carnies took turns at the strongman scale, cutely trying to outdo each other, but only

91 a few of them managing to clang the bell. The poet didn’t tell her where he was taking her. “You’ll see in a minute,” he said. “You’ll see. It’s going to save everybody’s life.” “I’ve been wanting to ask you: Are the people in your poems real people?” Eve asked. “Yeah,” the poet said. “Some. People I’ve seen around. People I’ve caught glimpses of here and there.” Eve thought how disappointing it would be to be a woman in a poem and to never know it, to never read it. The poet stopped the car on a one-car country bridge. When he turned off the engine, Eve heard the water rolling lightly over the rocks beneath them and a bird with heavy wings settling among the leaves of a tree. “What if you brought me out here to kill me,” Eve said, winking. “Didn’t anyone ever tell you you shouldn’t waste your life worry- ing about the what-ifs?” he said, winking back. He took a swig from his bottle, then handed it to her for a drink—a tart cider with a fierce bite of clove. She screwed up her face from it, stuck out her tongue. “Maybe you’ll learn to love it,” he said, and stepped from the car. “But now come with me,” he said. Eve followed him back to the end of the bridge, and down to the edge of a creek, a narrowing vein of a river a mile or so off. “You have to forgive him, you know?” he said. And he was right. Forgiveness was what was left. But it wasn’t until this anniversary that she could see signs of her forgiveness just slightly ahead, feeling it, like when you feel an ordinary cold starting to run its course. Here in the deep dark, she thought she could feel a lick of breath on her neck, her imagination slipping into an age-old storybook anxiety, the summer wind becoming the slow panting of peculiar wolves walking upright, or the breath of possum dangling , from low-hanging branches, from those snaky tails. “A sea ,” the poet said, as if peeking into her brain and see- ing her creatures there. “Have you heard about it?” he asked. Eve laughed politely, but he didn’t laugh with her, and she laughed more, assuming he was only feigning such gravity. “There have been sightings,” he said. “There’s even a website.” He took from his back pocket a penlight and a

92 print-out featuring grainy, Loch-Nessy images of some fabled, unsighted thing lifting what might be its neck, breaking the surface of moonlight on water. “You think that monster is here?” Eve asked. She looked in the poet’s face for tender signs of drug-addict decay: eyes fixed on pain and fear, bags beneath them. But he was merely serious. “You could afford to believe in it,” he said. “And you do?” she asked. “No,” he said. “You can’t believe in your own invention.” He began to walk away from her, alongside the creek, stripping his clothes off. “Get naked and help me,” he said, and Eve still buzzed enough from her mar- tini after martini of just an hour or so ago, that the command seemed worthy of following. She kicked off her and unzipped the back of her dress. She kept on the matching bra and panties she’d bought from a shop called Antoinette’s of Omaha, splendid lacy underthings she’d brought home in a peppermint-striped paper bag. As she walked toward the poet, she felt Stag’s suicide note still tucked beneath her bra strap. It scratched again at her skin, as if with sudden claws of insistence. She took it from her bra and returned to where she’d left her dress, and she stuck the note far into the toe of her pump, to keep safe her late hus- band’s famous last words. As the poet pulled at branches and shrubbery collected along the bank of the creek, a strip of moonlight slipped between leaves and glis- tened on the sweat on his naked back. Eve’s eyes followed a quick-moving drop rolling along the poet’s spine, falling to the light peach-fuzzy down of his ass. He stood still then, concentrating on something in the thicket, and she stood near at his back, almost touching him, but not, moving her fingers close to his skin. Ever-so-close, as might be written in an old story, something like with pretty maids transmogrified into she-beasts. The poet bumped into Eve, backing up, tugging out a contraption that grew and grew before Eve’s eyes as it was wriggled and wrestled from its nest in the mud. “Take the chain,” the poet said, and Eve grabbed the metal at the midsection of the monster, and together they ushered the collection of detritus to the center of the creek, to its deepest spot, to where the water

93 came up to Eve’s waist. Out in this make-believe sea, the mud washing away from the monster’s centipede body of old tires and thick braids of rope, Eve could see the mastery of the poet’s work. On the monster’s head, held up by a broken broomstick, was a ’s face like that from a kite in a Chinese parade. Eyes of mirrored glass, a mane of shag carpet, red tin coiling from lead-pipe nostrils like twists of angry flame. “I can only hope for someone to see it from a distance,” he said. “And it gets talked about, and named, and dismissed, and Barcelona be- comes famous again. People love a hoax. A good hoax could restore our faith, Eve, don’t you think?” “It’s beautiful,” Eve said, instantly caught up in the poet’s task of keeping the monster, and all its segments, above water, as they carried it upstream, closer to where the sleepy truckers crossed the creek on a highway bridge. She swam back and forth, end to end, lifting, steadying, her lazy muscles aching from all the new movement. She felt the sharp edge of rusted junk metal cut at her flesh, tear at it, felt a fingernail crack, and her funny bone ring with a hard knock against the monster’s lively rubber tail. She and the poet didn’t speak, but yet communicated their struggle in gasps and terrible groans, and if nothing else, she felt better knowing it wasn’t easy for him, either.

94 Kurt Schwitters Translated by Jack Zipes The Swineherd and the Great, Illustrious Writer 

swineherd was tending his pigs and playing his flute at the same a time: “Tweet, tweet, tweet, tweet, tweet, tweet, tweet.” A great, illustrious writer came by and asked him whether he was indeed happy. The swineherd opened his blue eyes and looked at him as though he were gazing deep into the sea. Then he spoke: “I am, indeed, serene and also content, but I’m not happy. Oh, if only I were a fairy-tale ! Just think of how many swineherds are children of royalty! How many!” And he pointed to his bible in which he had read about them, and which he used as a pillow. Well, the illustrious writer was so moved by the swineherd that he took him and set him bim bam! right into the middle of his masterwork, his very best fairy tale. And there he sat, the swineherd, with his beautiful blue eyes, and he was a real prince, the genuine son of a king, and he tended his father’s pigs and played his flute at the same time: “Tweet, tweet, tweet, tweet, tweet, tweet, tweet.” And the illustrious writer asked him whether he was now really happy. The swineherd prince opened his beautiful blue eyes and looked at him as though he were gazing deep into the sea and said: “I am, in- deed, serene and content, but I’m not happy. Oh, if only I had a lovely little woman who could tend the pigs as nicely as I do. Just think of how many swineherds have a tender, lovely little woman!” The illustrious writer was glad that he had asked the swineherd ahead of time, for he still hadn’t finished the fairy tale, his masterwork. And bim bam! he retrieved a tender, lovely little woman from somewhere in his imagination, a maiden with long blonde pigtails and with blue eyes and a little red skirt. A maiden who could tend the pigs just as nicely as the swineherd prince. And it did not take long before our swineherd prince fell in love with her and couldn’t take his eyes off her. It was as if

95 he gazed at the sun, for wherever he looked, he saw her slender figure, the red skirt, and the long blonde pigtails. So the illustrious writer asked him whether he was now indeed happy. However, the swineherd prince began by : “Oh, my great, illustrious writer, I was serene and also content, even though I wasn’t happy. However, now I am no longer serene and don’t have any peace of mind. As for being happy—I’m certainly not happy!” And so the illustrious writer asked him whether he would prefer that he removed the maiden with the red skirt and the long blonde pig- tails from his masterwork, the fairy tale, in which the swineherd was now living. However, our swineherd prince opened his beautiful blue eyes and gazed at the great, illustrious writer, and his eyes were so wet like a sea whipped by a whirlwind, and he said, “I’m no longer serene and also no longer content. However, happiness can easily come from such a young maiden. So, leave me be! I have time. I can wait. If I can ever become happy, my happiness will depend just on my being with this maiden.” And our illustrious writer promised not to remove the little maid- en from his masterwork without the swineherd’s approval. And now the sunset became so red, and the sun glistened so brightly at night, and the morning was so full of dew and freshness, and the fog was so wistful and beautiful like a bridal veil, and the first kiss was like a mother’s blessing and was so sweet that there is not enough sugar to describe it. And now that they had learned how to do it, they began kissing each other every two or three minutes, and they continued kissing each other all the time except when they had to eat and do some other necessary things. Once again the great illustrious writer asked our swineherd prince whether he was indeed really happy. In response the swineherd opened his beautiful blue eyes and said: “Happy?—I was happy for a moment at the first kiss. Now it’s over, and my serenity is gone, and I no longer have any peace of mind. Everything is gone, and I must somehow regain my happiness. I must make that lovely maiden my wife. After all, most of the swineherds are married!” Then the illustrious writer became very serious, for he couldn’t give the simple peasant maiden with the little red skirt and the long blonde

96 pigtails to the son of a king, and he said to the swineherd prince that he had to realize that he was not a lowly and simple swineherd, but the son of a king, and it was not appropriate for the son of a king to marry a simple peasant maiden. What would the king, his father, who graced this masterful and beautiful fairy tale with his elegant appearance, say? What would the old dignified man say? Then the swineherd gazed at him with his beautiful blue eyes and said: “What’s the purpose of my being the son of a king? I had thought I could marry whomever I wanted to, and now I’m not even supposed to marry this lovely, beautiful, and delightful maiden, because she is too lowly for me. But I don’t want someone else supposedly from a better class. I don’t like those scarecrows, who smell like violets and flap like flags. Let me remain a simple swineherd. I’ve had it with being the son of a king.” Then the illustrious writer became very sad and said that he had placed the poor swineherd into his masterwork as a friendly gesture and had raised him bim bam! to the rank of prince, and he had given him a maiden as a gift for his amusement, and now this was the way that the swineherd thanked him by wanting to destroy this beautiful fairy tale, this masterwork. “Stubborn mule!” he yelled at the swineherd. “How can I let the king, your honorable father become a beggar at the end of my masterwork and reduce him to the father of a mere swineherd? How can I just do something like this? Isn’t there composition and tact and rhythm in my masterwork, and shouldn’t I maintain my work just as it is? How would I come off as a great, illustrious writer if I were to reduce the good old king, your honorable father, to a beggar after I spent two hundred pages allowing him to be king and then said that everything I had written before had been an illusion, deception, and mere mess? Just because it would please you? Do you think that I’m your servant? I’d ruin my entire career all because of your stupid pubescent love! Let me tell you something: you can’t marry that woman. She is not at all befitting of your rank. You can love her, but you must marry some one else who is beautiful, smells like violets, and wears glorious floating and rippling gowns.” Our swineherd withdrew so deeply into himself and became so sad that he had to weep with his beautiful blue eyes and said: “Well then,

97 remove me from your masterwork, my great, illustrious writer. I’m only disturbing it. I’m not fit to be the son of a king. Stick me into a minor work, but let me remain a swineherd.” “What good will all that do?” the illustrious writer responded. “If you appear in a minor work, you still wouldn’t be happy in it. I’ve learned all this from all the bad experiences that I’ve had with you because you’ve been so ungrateful. You’d only destroy that work as well. So, I won’t do it!” “Then set me free,” said the swineherd. “Let me go off in peace and send me back to my meadow where I can tend the pigs owned by my master as I was doing before, and let me take the maiden with the little red skirt with me.” “I can’t do this,” said the illustrious writer. “I can certainly give you back your life and let you leave in peace. However, the maiden is nothing but my imagination. I can’t give her to you. She isn’t even alive. What would you do with her? She’s only a piece of paper, printed on both sides, with words that you can’t even read.” “Then set me free,” said the swineherd. “I must return to my meadow.” And bim bam! our great, illustrious writer removed him from his masterwork and returned him to the meadow and the exact place, where he had found him. And now he asked him whether he had finally become happy. Then the swineherd said: “My illustrious writer, I’ve become se- rene and also content. Through you I’ve seen happiness. However, I don’t want it. There’s happiness, but it comes at the cost of my serenity and peace of mind. What should I do with such happiness? Oh, don’t ask me whether I am now happy. I don’t want to be happy. Let me alone with my serenity. Let me alone with my peace of mind. Why don’t you live in the happiness of your imagination, my great, illustrious writer?” “Swineherd,” said the writer, “you are wiser than I am. Why should a man run after happiness? There’s no happiness that lasts longer than a moment. Give me some of your serenity, something from your peace of mind, and I won’t want to be happy anymore.” So the swineherd took the illustrious writer by his hand and gazed at him with his blue eyes as though he were looking deep into a sea and

98 said: “Come, sit down beside me. We’ll tend the pigs, you and me. We’ll eat, drink, sleep, lay in the sun, and our entire concern will be the welfare of the pigs. That’s not happiness, but it is serenity and peace of mind.”

99 Kellie Wells Rabbit Catcher of Kingdom Come 

ne sudden spring, when trees and flowers, bamboozled by o warmth, began budding in January, the prematurely honied air flatly refusing to chill again until late December, the town of Kingdom Come, Kansas, was beset by a plague of black-tailed jack rabbits that were not only many but jumbo, bigger than great danes they were, gar- gantuan rabbits, suspiciously well-fed, slavering over the zoysia, plump middles heaving, back feet long and brawny as a sailor’s forearm and ears you could fan a fainting princess with. And not at all timid, never darting under privet or disappearing behind fences at the last minute, but glar- ing tauntingly at and hobbled crones, whom the town feared would be dragged away to an unspeakable end in the riparian thickets whence these strapping rabbits multiplied, their numbers seeming to double each week. They licked their paws and stroked their ears and whiskers while leveling a menacing eye and leering toothily at any passerby bold enough to look them in their flea-bitten mugs. They stood up on their whopping hoppers and waggled their ears, as though receiving a communiqué from jack rabbit HQ, the air crackling with animal electricity, and then they’d charge a neighbor’s chihuahua, the javelin of their ears at a determined tilt, and the runt mutt would leap with a shriek through its doggy door. They hopped defiantly into busy intersections, and station wagons and pick-up trucks, afraid a collision with one of these sturdy lagomorphs would surely cause their vehicles to crumple like beer cans against an ob- durate forehead, hit one another and rolled in ditches instead, coming to rest tires-up among the cattails. At night the rabbits drummed their feet so rhythmically the earth seemed to growl and the sleepless citizens of Kingdom Come locked and relocked their doors and windows until the thumping ceased at sunrise. The town was in a pickle, had a big-eared crisis on its hands, fast multiplying pestilence, cotton-tailed epizootic, and, well, it feared for its safety and solitude.

100 Which is why when the man in the parti-colored coat appeared and claimed he could, for a nominal, one-time fee, rid the town of this nuisance forever, the drowsy burghers fell gratefully at his feet. He pulled from his pied pocket the largest carrot anyone had ever seen; even Farmer Bauer, known county-wide for his prize-winning cu- cumbers the size of hockey sticks and potatoes that frequently resembled past presidents, was agog. And from this carrot, the man in the color- ful coat whittled a fife, whose music the town was deaf to, though dogs howled and whimpered and shimmied under sofas when he blew. This man, let us hereafter refer to him as Herr Pfeiffer, testing the irresistible pitch of the pipe, played a casual tune one night, strolling in the unseasonable and glistering warmth of the moonlight, and the rumbling was replaced with a high-pitched keening that caused people to fill their kitchen sinks, eject ice from metal trays, and immerse their throbbing noodles in ice water. The next day, Herr Pfeiffer began to silently ululate in earnest, and the wild-eyed rabbits were tugged, tail first, toward where he stood piping in the gazebo; a pyramid of resentful rabbits began to wriggle in front of him, the ground scarred with claw marks as they tried to resist the sonorous magnetism of Herr Pfeiffer’s Hasen-song. This bushel of black-tailed jack rabbits writhed and kicked, heaped higher than a hay- stack, but when Herr Pfeiffer lowered his fife, they all went limp and began quietly to snore. The people of Kingdom Come couldn’t bring themselves to witness the rumpus through locked windows and sliding glass doors, but they cautiously parted their drapes when the air gently thundered with the sound of sleeping rabbits, a welcome estivation they hoped would last. After a week, people began to emerge from their houses and chil- dren stole away at night to secretly stroke the silken feet of the rabbits as they slumbered, and occasionally one would snort and turn on its side and below it an ear or a paw would stir to life and wave weakly, yellow teeth chomping with dreams, and the children would gasp and back away, until the mound again snuffled in unison. Some rabbits slept with their eyes open, and beneath a full moon their eyeshine made the town blush, bathed it in a pink glow that stuck to the skin, causing adolescent boys,

101 fearful of the hell they’d have to pay if ever they were spotted sporting girly hues, to stay indoors. They ate their meat extra well-done, never mind that it shrank to leather, and they never let their tongue dart from its cave, even when Dr. Hildebrand wagged a depressor at them and told them to open wide. No pink no how. The town council met to decide what was to be done with this big-as-a-boat-footed vermin now hypnotized in an unsightly jumble of tails and whiskers and ears and feet in the middle of town. Would the rabbits remain indefinitely under Herr Pfeiffer’s spell and snore them- selves senseless, dwindle to bone? And how long might that take? And were the townsfolk really obliged to pay the piper? He hadn’t, after all, actually emancipated the town from its trammels, no siree bobcat! He’d only bewitched it into unconsciousness, and who knew how long that would hold? Surely the hypnotized rabbits would soon rouse from their stupor, perhaps mad with a ravenous hunger, and who could say what might be on the menu! Herr Pfeiffer, sitting quietly at the back as the town’s alarm rose in pitch, stood and asked to be recognized. His colorful coat was bejew- eled with light kindled by the flickering fluorescence of the town hall and seemed to swarm with diamond-back beetles. “Esteemed elders and good people of Kingdom Come,” began Herr Pfeiffer, “I am not in the business of slaughtering God’s creatures, however vexatious their pres- ence. I corral and subdue, I enchant—I have done as you asked, no lon- ger does the rumble of your bane’s feet keep you sleepless at night—but it is not for me to decide the ultimate fate of living things, would you, dear brethren whose knees audibly knock in the presence of God, not agree?” Here Herr Pfeiffer smoothed his hands along his coat and light glittered across the sunken cheeks of his anguished auditors. “But if you insist. If you wish, in no uncertain terms, that these scapegraces be mortally dispatched, I am indeed able to provide this ser- vice. However, the cost of extermination is a good deal more dear. In addition to the tender I will ask you to part with, you must be prepared to open your ears to a sound like no other. It is the sound of suffering, which will infect your flesh like a virus, thickening your blood, burrow- ing in your most vital organs. It will become the caries that corrode the

102 teeth that wake you with aching at night, the congested vessels of the eyes red with grief, the creeping spots on skin gone slack as a ’s wattle with time. It is a fevered howling that will ring in your heart for the rest of your days and sound to you as though the Earth’s soul is being throttled. You must ask yourselves: can your hearts, stalwart and true as you may believe them to be, afford it?” The town council asked Herr Pfeiffer if he would kindly step out so that they might consider the merit of his…intriguing proposal. He tapped his heels and bowed, and a bedazzling train of light followed him as he took his leave. Widow Winkler said if you asked her, relying on Herr Pfeiffer a second time would be throwing good spinach after bad, and she for one hadn’t a plug nickel to throw in any direction. (Widow Winkler lived from her departed husband’s paltry pension. He’d been an itinerant Messiah, headlining in passion plays across the state—seasonal work but he was the best Christ in Kansas, could suffer and forgive at the drop of a hat, and so was handsomely compensated for each per- formance—but the Messiahs had only recently unionized and bargained for benefits when Herr Winkler died on the job, on the cross! He’d been devoted to his craft and felt he’d understand Christ’s motivation bet- ter if just once he could be properly staked. As misfortune would have it, Herr Winkler was a bleeder, heretofore unbeknownst. Retirement funds had yet to accrue and life insurance ((the whole notion of which was complicated by all those nightly resurrections, matinees on Sun- day)) had been dismissed on principle, so the other Christs of Kansas, who also yearned to bleed believably, donated a portion of their income to create a modest annuity for Wilhelmina Winkler, surviving spouse of Berthold Winkler, voted Greatest Jesus Since Jesus at their annual potluck and Most Likely to Raise the Dead.) Mayor Finsterwalder sug- gested they stipulate payment be remitted only after this plague was stamped out, the rabbits a fading chapter in the town’s otherwise placid history. “But,” asked Constable Schutzmann, “what about the sound of suffering Herr Pfeiffer warned against, a brutal music that would certainly be” (Constable Schutzmann, though a by-the-book beadle in every other regard, kept at home a three-legged marten he’d found wounded near his well and coddled back to health and trained to waltz,

103 teaching her to hop rhythmically on one foot one-two-three one-two-three, and clearly he nursed a secret affection for all velvety creatures, however unsettling their snarl, however monstrous their feet). “Ah, pfrrrt,” spat Farmer Bauer. “We are no strangers to suffering! We all know well the shriek of a hog what has gotten downwind of his fate, do we not? Surely we’ll not allow the brief bellowing of animal torment to stand in the way of our happiness?!” With this, a snort flew from his bulbous schnozzle— his woolly moustache shivered like the legs of a centipede and appeared as though it might scuttle off and leave his newly naked lip to fend for itself—and he folded sun-leathered arms across the bulging barrel of his chest. “These rabbits have it coming!” he boomed. And so it was decided: though there was still some disagreement, among the more pinch-fisted skinflints among them, over the exact monetary value of such a service, Herr Pfeiffer would be retained and asked to exterminate the waggle- eared menace and the feet they hopped in on. Farmer Bauer reluctantly plunked gold pieces into Herr Pfeiffer’s eager mitts (the only form of lucre he’d accept—paper currency, he said, so easily a stiff wind’s hostage), said the rest would be proffered once services were rendered, and Herr Pfeiffer again clicked his heels and bowed solemnly then backed away until he found himself in sunlight, and he turned and strode forward, showily pumping his arm in the air like a drum major, marching to music he had yet to make. His coat ex- ploded kaleidoscopically in the light, spangling the air, throwing disks of color everywhere, everywhere, and a train of jewels blazed brightly behind him. He turned his head once and grinned over his shoulder, and his unusually long eyelashes fluttered gracefully in a beckoning manner, like the undulating fingers of a sea anemone. Widow Win- kler, eyes like boiled eggs, yelped and slapped at the beetles of light that scurried along her arms, then she grabbed the shoulder of Frau Kinder- bein and said, “I see your Irmalinda floating in the candy-colored light, trailing close behind him. You must keep her near as shadow!” And Frau Kinderbein, whose marigolds had suffered more than once at the paws of Widow Winkler’s snuffling mutt Schatz and whose daughter sometimes suffered from night terrors brought on by the manic mid- night twittering of the widow’s canary Petunia, shrugged off the crone’s

104 craggy hand, sniffed, and stormed off, her bosom raised to a bumptious altitude. The rest of the frazzled citizenry of Kingdom Come headed straight home, gathered bread and jam and candles enough for a week, plugged their ears with dollops of wax, and stowed their families safely away in root cellars. Let the rabbit extraction commence! The townspeople waited in dimness, held their heads in their hands and tried not to listen, silently played cards and whittled vague shapes from turnips, ate pickled okra and boysenberry preserves, fed their mewling cats condensed milk, taught their dogs, who whined baro- metrically and argued with their feet, to play dead. After they’d been underground for three days, they began to feel like grubs or tubers, like the least shrew, smallest mammal in Kansas— they felt puny and too comfortable in darkness, so the close, dank quar- ters began to shrink, and the townspeople thought: surely the pox has been antidoted by now. It is worth remarking that too often it is impatience or boredom that persuades us to step foot into the lion’s yawning maw—with the passing of time comes accidental daring—but the minute our britches catch on the barb of an incisor, we awaken to the delusion, turn tail and gallop in the direction of our sensible cowardice. So it was in Kingdom Come on this the day that would later and forever demand atonement. Just as parents and grandparents, rest- less offspring and orphaned cousins, filed toward the steps, tunneling a pinkie into an ear to free it from silence, preparing to periscope their heads above ground for confirmation that the plague had been piped into oblivion, suddenly family cats tossed back their mangy heads and began to bay like wolves beneath a swollen moon, ahroooor! The dogs, nobody’s dupe, could see that such behavior was a sign the world was soon to end, soon to crumble like a day-old biscuit beneath the crack of doom, and they tried to outwit the apocalypse by falling stiffly onto their sides, thud, good dog, good dead dog! Big-fisted toddlers clutched wooden alphabet blocks so tightly their skin gave and their hands bled, as if they’d been bitten by feral words in the of forming (to this day a ghostly branding on the palms of Kansas children remains faintly visible,

105 even beneath the impetigo that scabs the skin in spring; however, the letters change each year, capital H one year, lowercase e the next, then a faint l—Help? Hell? Hello? He lives?—as though their hands were trying to tell them something, ouija them a bulletin from the world beyond hands, perhaps warn, snailishly, of the coming of evil—or the coming of good, equally disruptive, who can say?). And so families returned to their bunkers, huddled together, while hamsters and mice and gerbils all ran themselves ragged on squeaking wheels, nearly reduced themselves to a rundle of butter, and awaited the all-clear of daylight that rewards the night shift, vampires and owls and astronomers and fireflies, with sunny and dreamless sleep. Once settled on cots and benches, the final hand of hearts dealt, the townspeople too heard the sound, felt it in the roots of their teeth, as it increased in pitch and volume, a concatenated shriek so piercing, sharp as an awl, that eardrums shattered, like crystal beneath the pres- sure of a tenor shrilly trilling a lofted note, and blood trickled from their ears, but still they could hear. Children began to hiccup and whimper and parents held damp tea towels to their paling cheeks. And then they found themselves on their feet, standing without meaning to, stumbling dreamily, wakeful somnambulists, pulled forward, up the steps, into the afternoon—they squinted against the dazzle of day—into the sound that seemed to empty their hearts of blood, sap them of all volition, into the soul-curdling caterwaul that sounded to the pious folk of Kingdom Come as though God Himself were being lashed, the world’s skin peeled from muscle, flesh sheered from bone, the sound of gore dripping, drip- ping, ichor thinning to a rivulet, the hollow thum-thump of life on the ebb. They walked, eyes at half mast, arms adangle, limp as slain geese, and they stopped when they reached the river, where their magnetized eyes remained riveted and unblinking, burning with sight, as one bedev- iled rabbit after another pitched itself, screaming, off the banks and into the rushing water, paws peddling for purchase in the air, bodies dashed against rocks, necks snapped by the force of the current that churned with the spring thaw, and the rabbits’ quivering ectoplasm, translucent but pink as a tongue, rose slowly into the air like gluey bubbles, gelatinous vapor, wafted overhead, clouding the sky with an oily glow, then burst,

106 the town blanketed in ooze, a viscous rain: the rosy slime of a slaugh- tered soul! Off in the distance, beneath the sun’s mid-afternoon glare, the spellbound burghers saw a winking brilliance on the shoals, like a mirror splashed with light, and when their eyes adapted to the bright- ness they could make out Herr Pfeiffer’s pipe raised in the air, the man at the other end reminding them of Dr. Jekyll guzzling his fateful elixir straight from the alembic tipped to his lips. The townspeople frantically swabbed the goo of extermination from their limbs, and all at once chil- dren and dogs fell to the ground, eyeballs shuddering beneath the lids as if recording a seismic shift, as if atwitch with a shattering dream, which is how they would later think of it, the wickedest dream they could ever recall having, an experience not of God’s still-watered, green-pastured, and betuliped kingdom, a dream that beggared even the most tormented imagination, and parents opened their mouths and tried to swallow the sound, gulp it down and drown it in their gullets, choking on air polluted with suffering. This malignant yawp, it cannot properly be described; it harrowed to the quick the halting spirits of the sorrowful citizens of Kingdom Come, Kansas, who never again fished in the river, who never again whittled a carrot, waltzed in the moonlight, nursed a wounded animal, whose weddings hereafter were somber as wakes, who never again heard the sound of children singing or weeping or calling their dogs (though the taproot buried beneath these burgeoning never agains is yet to be revealed, all in good time!). The river boiled with the bodies of rabbits.

The true name of the piper, they later discovered, was Herr Dr. Dr. Edelhans Hasenfänger, once world-renowned musicologist and zoolo- gist, of the Hameln Hasenfängers, a name that mysteriously appeared one day on the town registry in a variegated ink that bled across the thatched fibers of the parchment in such a way as to make it seem botanical, rhi- zomes creeping in all directions, a name (like that of that other notorious subterranean scoundrel) never uttered in polite company.

107 It cannot be said that Kingdom Come returned to normal once the rabbits had rattled their last jack-rabbity breath, had met their mis- guided maker, but the town fell in step again with its former rhythm and the townsfolk choused themselves into believing they’d surmounted the worst of their tribulations. Until. Until that day when house dogs, those crystal gazers, began burrow- ing under davenports (Mayor Finsterwalder’s Irish wolfhound Hedwig schlepping his prized Biedermeier daybed on her back from the parlor into the dining room as she tried to creep toward invisibility) and cats hid in haylofts where they let mice scurry past them unpawed. The mice were not especially grateful for the amnesty because, well, mice are as fond of routine as the next rodent. Lassitude caused them to thin nearly to extinction for they did not feel they could crumb-gather or invade the corn-rick in good conscience with no claws snapping at their tails to give them fleet-footed purpose. On that day, Herr Pfeiffer appeared again at a council meeting “to settle unsettled accounts.” As he strode into the hall in his light-spangled mantle, seeming for all the world like a spreading fire, the townspeople felt the heat on their cheeks and parted to let this conflagration pass, stepping wide for fear they too might combust. Herr Pfeiffer asked to be recognized and Brother Angsthase yielded the lectern and stepped down from the dais. Later, when the town would attempt to reconstruct Herr Pfeiffer’s appearance so that they might offer a bounty for his cap- ture, they would each recollect the features of his face differently, would in fact reconstruct him in their own image (gutless god-wannabes all of us)—face round as a skillet with eyes like dull stones; aquiline nose above fat lips garish as poppies; teeth blue-green as oxidized copper and a monkish baldness—and they’d forget the mesmerism of his motley coat and the bewitching pitch of his piping. “Your town has been purged of its pestilence,” said Herr Pfeiffer, “and I have returned to collect my due. If you would be so good as to remit my quittance and square the score, I will gladly quit you and be on my way.” He bowed and tossed his hat to the mayor. Each alderman searched the bewildered eyes of the next for some guidance, some cue, and the hat passed quickly from hand to hand. Herr

108 Pfeiffer stepped down and returned to the center aisle and the hat came round to him, sagging with booty. He smiled, clicked his heels, glanced inside the hat, then a lupine grimace darkened his face. When council members recounted this later, they would say he bared blinding teeth that glistened like daggers and his eyes yellowed with animal rage, but he said nothing, and his silence rang inside them like a clapper in a bell, making their bones hum and their hearts skip, their livers clang, their souls clamor to be free of that four-flushing flesh that would soon turn to dust and settle on armoires and sconces only to be swept into the bin with yesterday’s rubbish, sorriest of sorry fates (pragmatic, if fickle, souls always look for an escape hatch when the end inches closer)! Inside the hat were candy wrappers, pencils, plug nickels, balls of lint, marbles, four-penny nails, assorted flints, last week’s raffle tickets, willow buds, but nary a gemstone or drop of gold, a hatful of the nothing Nothing carries in its pocket. No one drew a breath or twitched so much as a toe. “S-s-see here,” stammered Mayor Finsterwalder at last, “the rabbits have gone, there’s no arguing that. But so too has our felicity, the sweet sanctity we once enjoyed—fled, owing in no small measure to that…that diabolical song we cannot shake from our ears, a lamentation we strong- ly suspect is infernal in origin, and he who p-p-p-pays the devil will be in debt for eternity!” sputtered the mayor, miscalculating the breath neces- sary to propel reticent indignation, the last word scarcely a whisper. A chilly stillness settled again on the room, inside of which Herr Pfeiffer’s coat seemed to blaze anew and the fire flashed in the shrinking pupils of the onlookers, their irises emptying of color, welling up with heat. “And what if,” asked Herr Pfeiffer with a mouth that did not move, “it was…God who murdered the scourge? Isn’t extermination always God’s purview, his bailiwick, prerogative, his Reason for Being? What if it is God to whom you owe your fitful sleep? He is surely in- demnified and you can be certain He will collect.” A half-grin propped up one side of his mouth. “You cannot outrun the Constable, dear thimbleriggers, cannot stiff the piper for long. Consider yourself in ar- rears!” Herr Pfeiffer blazed out of the room, and each person he passed

109 fell to his knees and grasped at the trailing smoke, fingering the air for forgiveness. A week passed and there was no further peep from the piper. The aldermen’s ears felt mauled by Herr Pfeiffer’s last clapperclawing, so no one uttered a word about the threats the town fervently hoped were idle as disrepair, indolent as a capsized velocipede with a badly bent wheel. Those Kingdom Comers secretly given to occult imaginings in the yearning privacy of long and moonless nights wished he’d been spirited away by a vigorous wind to an inhospitable continent remote as the stars and prayed that a technicolored coat fueled by a grudge was not a reliable means of conveyance. Even the most stubborn mortal funk is tamed by Time, taught to bear up under the yoke of mortality like all God’s oxen, so after a fort- night, the people dared to think that perhaps Herr Pfeiffer’s bite fell short of his bellow and they allowed themselves at last to sink like the dead into the soft ticking of their mattresses at night. So dog-weary were the sleep-deprived brethren of Kingdom Come, Kansas, that no bodies stirred from their stupor when the animals began to . Not even the yowling and hissing, the stamping of hooves, could rouse the snorting sleepers from this deliciously leaden embrace of Morpheus, whose ten- derness they’d sought in vain, like mooning schoolgirls, for months. It is natural to grope for , sentiment twice removed, in moments of guarded contentment. To say simply the town at last slept soundly is, for those who set store by the sorcery of words, to further court the endless ills that flesh is heir to—calamity is warded off by being eternally anticipated, the devil too. Tranquility, as any comfort- able basset hound can tell you, must always dissemble, masquerade as irreversible woe, lest it jinx its own wobble-wheeled future. (Lunita Betelheim, who didn’t believe in shouldering debt, sobbed for an hour every afternoon promptly at three o’clock to pay down the dejection we come into the world owing and to invest in a retirement free of all but the most trifling miseries; she believed five months of sobbing immu- nized her against the death of a loved one, three weeks for a prolonged illness, two months unrequited adoration, one month garden variety abjection; such were Lunita’s mathematics of preventative mourning.)

110 But even the artful dodge of language or gesture, little more, let us be frank, than a parlor trick, cannot save us in the end. And this is how God can be certain He is God: His legerdemain relies less on the distance of sense than the intimacy of sound; His is a thundering melody of wrath and repentance, which is to say a song understood by all, the song we arrive in our bodies bleating. And so it was that the good and decent people of Kingdom Come, Kansas, came to doubt the inoculating power of piety: fat lot of good their devotion had done them! See if it isn’t so.

In Kingdom Come there was a girl, who shall henceforth be re- ferred to as (…Wall Will Woe Wallow…) Willow! (Lithe as a…!) Willow Himmelfarb, a child born big as a camel’s hump, big as a fable, so big she broke the stork’s bill, delaying delivery of other infants, which caused the mothers to hiss at her and rub their beleaguered loins when they passed her, wombs whose phantom pains of labor persisted for years and caused the women to cry out each day at the stroke of their child’s birth. In fact this is how the town, who’d always mistrusted the tilt of the sun and whose bodies’ collective electricity caused clocks and watches to spin so fast folks feared they’d live their whole lives in less than a day, began to tell time: Gisela Schadenfrau 11 a.m., Malvina Marquart shortly be- fore supper in the evening, Peabody and Elfriede Kinderbein a minute to midnight. And with each passing year the blue expanse between Willow and the outer heavens grew smaller. The community waited for the day she’d exchange a chaplet of clover for that of clouds. In that year of the piper, Willow was ten years old but could already stare the stateliest stallion in the eye (though she generally steered wide of livestock for fear they might claim her as one of their own). And on that particular night, the night of the stony sleep, Willow, like all the children of Kingdom Come, felt herself rise from her bed and float into the midnight air (Elfriede and Rapunzel’s synchronized howls peeling behind her), and it was such a lovely and alien sensation this weightlessness that she felt no fear,

111 thought God had come to rescue her at last, free her from the anvil of her earthly form, slip that ponderous noose from her neck. Once out- side her house, with no ceiling to stymie her, Willow thought she’d drift quickly toward Canicula and, fond admirer that she was of both dogs and remote locales, she suffered no regret, but then she thought of her brother Ogden, imagined him grounded at home with only her parents for company, and she felt her soul kedged across the prairie, her body an anchor; her feet began to drag, then her knees, her belly, her chin, until she found herself face down in buffalo grass. She rolled on her back and saw animal eyes blinking around her. She wished she could muster fear, but she knew buzzards and badgers, coyotes and , even the occa- sional mountain lion and vagrant bear would scatter once they could see she was no tidy morsel (two autumns ago a black bear had been spotted on a bitter night curled at the feet of the statue of Mendelsohn Paddle- trap, who in 1883 invented the tornado harness, a honking contraption that could lasso a twister, rope the energy round the ankles, and with that force momentarily tamed, he would loose it again on the ground to conjure his heart’s fondest longing: a coop full of the most pluckily prinked bantams—feathered to the nines—you could ever hope to fancy and that laid not only the best-tasting eggs this side of capital P Paradise but produced chicken milk to boot! Which, it turns out, is ambrosia to bears, more enticing than all the honey in Bear Heaven). Above Wil- low, children wafted in the air with unspeakable grace, fluid as eels, but then the moon illumined their bodies and in their nightclothes they re- minded her of the seeds of a milkweed parachuting toward fertilization. Everything is more something else than itself, thought Willow. Willow, who usu- ally felt fettered by history (always a short man’s story by her measure), thought then about Amelia Earhart, cornfed Kansas girl like her, Meely her sister called her, who constructed a track on her father’s tool shed, greased it with lard, drove a wooden box off the edge, hung suspended in time and space like a lost planet, fell to the earth, and said, “One day I’ll disappear in the clouds, Pidge, you watch.” (Everyone who grows up in Kansas has a yen to be airborne sooner or later, if only to glimpse where God hides His unimaginable form, that fat carcass. Many is the prai- ried Kansan, landlocked and starved for altitude and love, tall trees and

112 tender music, who has had a bone to pick with Herr Dr. Dr. G-o-dou- ble-crucifix.) Willow thought it was not tragic but a dream fulfilled that Amelia Earhart lifted into the sky one day and never returned. Willow Airheart, thought Willow, air the element in which her empty heart natu- rally thrived. Then she thought this: It’s always thin women who disappear. And suddenly there was Ogden swimming in the sky overhead, clutching the feet of a sleeping girl who bobbed in the air in front of him, Irmalinda Kinderbein. Ogden who prayed at the foot of Willow’s bed and smuggled into her room at night ginger snaps and peppernuts her mother hid from her. “Ogden, Oggie!” she called. He waved to her with his feet. So Willow, who now felt to herself more weighted with flesh than ever, picked herself up and followed the floating children deeper into the night. Willow followed them until her feet ached and she was sure they had reached what her parents called “the ragged edge of Christendom”; beyond the windbreak planted to halt the raging dust that, back in the day, had stormed the lungs of every breathing thing; beyond the forest she was warned never to trespass lest she awaken the wild omnivorous one-eared cows that were afraid of mirrors and goats but who chewed children like grass and spit up baskets woven from hair and bones and teeth; to a clearing in the trees, and there the children began to flutter to the ground, lit by the throbbing moon, looking like blank slips of paper. Now Willow could hear the rhythmic croaking of the pipe that sounded like the whirring of June cicadas as they slid from their skins. She walked through the sleepy children lying on the ground, careful not to step on their outstretched hands, and searched them for her brother, Oggie with his nose dusted with freckles and his button mouth that mumbled in sleep. She pulled up short when she saw dagger-toed boots, betasseled at the knee, gleaming with lanolin and lampblack, tapping the ground, and there standing among the slumbering kindergarten was Herr Pfeiffer, who held in his hands a pan pipe. Willow, who had been Kingdom Come Olfactory Champion three years running and who this year would com- pete at state, having identified with a single sniff the secret ingredients in Mrs. Sigismund’s Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte (half a thimble of red currant schnapps and a dash of rosewater) and in Mr. Zwiebel’s patented

113 moisturizer that the prunier elders sopped up like bread and couldn’t get enough of (suet), could smell the hazelnuts and clove and marzipan of this lebkuchen pipe and marveled at how the instrument never grew smaller though he bit off a nibble with each blow. Actually, this made Willow a little sad because it reminded her of her own body: no matter what you did to it—you could slather it with schmalz and dangle choice cuts beneath the snouts of the most ravenous wolves—it defied reduc- tion, and the more you tried to contain it, the more it erupted in every direction. And Willow found the idea of regenerative food in a world plagued by unending starvation, mouths forever agape and bellies taut with hunger (everyone in Kingdom Come seemed reasonably well-fed, but she’d read books and knew there were people thinning everywhere, thinning, thinning as she slept), she found that troubling, one of those paradoxes God bullies mortals with, all the miserable hangdog Jobs of the world, the people who bleed and ache and dwindle and swoon and get back up again and offer Him their chin. The faithful, those patsies, thought Willow. God is a prowling alley and we are the wounded mice he bats around until the everyday terror of living makes our hearts skid to a stop. Ogden, heartsore, had sobbed when the rabbits disappeared, he their one true ardent admirer, and since then, it’s safe to say, Willow and God had been on the outs. The piper stopped playing when he saw Willow and grinned the thinnest of grins. As though he were fiery daylight and she a spelunker just emerged from deep in the belly of a cave, she had to squint to look at him, and then her eyes adjusted to the sight and she could see now his coat rippling around him, teeming with life, undulating, tidal. The lively coat (hmph, no mere grogram for this dandified bugler, thought Willow, eyes again narrowed, hands squeezed into fists, trying telepathically to tame the piper and his tumultuous ulster), it was a whirling cosmos under glass and hung in such a way as to remind Willow of a droplet of water about to fall from the spigot. She saw and could somehow identify all the animals tangled together in the terrarium of the coat: single-celled wrig- glers and chiggers and night snakes and chihuahuan ravens and spotted skunks and banded sculpins and fatmucket mussels and meadowlarks and sicklefin chubs and boxelder bugs and silver-haired bats and pocket mice and mooneyes and bobcats and bobolinks and black-tailed prairie

114 dogs and mule deer and mud daubers and piping plovers, of course, and in the middle of it all, looking stunned and logy as stowaway immigrants who just stepped woozily out of steerage onto foreign shores: those capa- cious jack rabbits! It seemed as though the animals were trapped beneath glass; they pawed and pecked and gnawed but the edge of the universe of the coat would not give, would not even admit to being the edge, and the animals, wild as anyone without a discernible planet beneath her feet would be, searched anxiously for cover. Willow looked into the piper’s eyes and could see something writhing there as well, and she feared for the animals, she feared for the children, she feared for dear Oggie her brother. All God’s children, and he’s come to claim them! she thought. Such is not the Kingdom of Heaven. Oggie had told Willow that life began with her— big girl that she was, biggest in Kingdom Come and beyond, biggest in Kansas, a state full of ample maidens—she could give it and take it away, and she wished now she had believed him, but, always mistaken for a lumbering boy when she was a tyke and her hair was bobbed at the nape, she wasn’t one to readily volunteer for the breeches part. That fraud piper’s no match for you, he’d said, Godding about like he is. Your movements are sometimes a mystery and your heart’s big as Kansas and you’d never let any innocent come to harm! But she hadn’t saved the rabbits. Even the surliest of God’s creatures deserve af- fection, pleaded Oggie. He’d thought the rabbits could be reformed with just a little lettuce, a spacious warren, and true love. But she was no re- deemer, those rabbits weren’t her invention, who was she to try to save another when she herself was lost? Just try finding the wee needle of her soul in that husky haystack of flesh! The sound the pipe now emitted was the insomniac humming of those strapping rabbits, and the children sprang to, stiffly, like stepped- on rakes, then their bodies quaked in spasm, jerked and whirled and thrashed about with their eyes still sealed, and Willow thought with a start, Totentanz! There’d been an epidemic of dancing in neighboring towns, and many stories floated among the children of Kingdom Come about the spastic fandango of the soon-to-be-dead, which is why you’d never catch Willow Himmelfarb waltzing in the moonlight, or even swinging her hips by the light of the porch, and when Willow saw her parents foxtrotting in the kitchen after supper, she went outside, hid

115 behind the buffaloberry bush, and threw stones at the window until her father came out to investigate, sure it was the Spitzbübisch twins from next door up to their usual hijinks, and her mother continued clearing the table, returning the corn relish and rind pickle and buttermilk to the icebox. The humming increased in pitch and fervor and tiny tulips blos- somed on the arms and legs and faces of the children, their skin a field of flowers, beautiful, beautiful! followed by a calyx of proud flesh stem- ming their spread; geraniums bloomed red as a fresh wound from open mouths, and the children’s small bodies perspired to such a degree they looked rain-soaked, and Willow, who could not get her leaden legs to budge an inch, reached out toward Oggie. She was a zeppelin cumbered by sandbags, yearning to rise with the rest, and she knew she’d never get off the ground. Oggie reeled and grinned but wouldn’t open his eyes, and she could see in the slant of his smile that he was hoping to meet up again with those walloping rabbits who’d met an unseemly end in Kingdom Come, Kansas. And then the piping stopped, though the children continued to twitch and leap. The piper called out their names. Eva, William, Ludmilla, and Hans! Heinrich and Albert and Ulrich and Alice! As the names were called, children flew up into the air and spiraled to- ward the moon like full balloons whose throats are suddenly unthrottled, looping like a whirligig higher into the ether until there was only a faint twinkling in the stratosphere. In another county, a man with a would report spying a “passel of dying stars in the night sky, all with the faces of startled children.” Willow’s eyes followed the path of the ris- ing children: fallen flesh on the way to becoming again incorruptible air, God’s , she thought. He sucks the spirit out of us at birth and leaves behind this residue of flesh, pilfers the marrow and discards the ransacked bone. She looked down at her own fat feet, feet that kept the cobbler occupied. There is no such thing as a human being. Ursula, Josephine, Irmalinda, and Ogden! Willow cried out and saw Og- gie open his eyes, two doleful blooms amidst the garden of his face. And Willow could see his final thought as a boy: Why ever would God re- main on Earth, feet so firmly planted in the soil, weighty shrub, while faithful children

116 were rocketing toward Heaven? She would not tell her parents how he looked, his mouth widening in terror as his feet left the ground. She would not tell her parents she could see sorrow in the way his eyes flickered then dimmed as he looked at her, eyes that had never known sadness. The piper’s coat now churned angrily about him, a cyclone he conducted with his piping from the calm of the eye, and Willow had to shield her face from the stinging rubble he kicked up, then he blew on his pipe a final note, the rabbits bared their teeth and flattened their ears aerodynamically, braced for velocity, and the piper and his pendant universe disappeared in the dust, haboosh! Willow wobbled on her hammy stems.

She found herself nose to nose with a vole as she awoke beneath the rising sun. When she opened her mouth to yawn, the vole tried to run, then sank its feet into the ground, but the wind of her inhalation lifted it into her mouth, and she coughed when it flew down her throat, vague irritant; the vole, who until now had only ever dreamt of flying, went sailing into the next county: Willow had grown in the night. Ac- tually she felt as she always had and so didn’t know if she’d enlarged or the world had shrunk, as the world has a habit of doing, but she figured either way the guilt was hers. She stood up, lifted a nest of speckled eggs out of the cleft of a craggy oak, ate it, and wept. She had always been a prisoner of her own appetite. She remembered an upsetting story she’d read once of an unwav- ering paradise, stubborn in its immutability, a land of more-than-plenty, hemorrhaging milk and honey, oozing with bounty; where trees were heavy year-round with toothsome fruits that didn’t know how to rot; a comely land free of the eyesore of humpbacked crones and whiskered spinsters; free of catastrophic dogs and pugilist gods who blacken your eye so they can forgive you the sin of being a spirit who has the gall to gussy itself up in flesh (of all the hare-brained solutions!); a land free of fatal children; where barnstorming monks take sudden flight, the unfail- ing sun warming their tonsured noggins, and wheel about on the zephyr of all the unheeded pre-paradise orisons they’d ever uttered, tempted

117 out of the sky only when the abbot paddles the creamy saddle of a cho- sen maiden—thwap!—until it glows so scarlet it can be spotted from the moon, and the monks see the beacon and steer themselves back toward the runway where their very own bare-bottomed nuns with bums in need of reddening await them; a place where pigs politely roast them- selves, crackling stuck with knives and forks, and trot across the table on charred hooves ready to be carved; where geese ascend and soar near to the sun, self-broiling, then drop from the sky and fly into the gaping mouths of the zaftig and eternally peckish, cooked animals just so much more relaxed and accommodating than wild ones inclined to snarl and balk at the fate of meat, the destiny of fueling human industry, the labor of meat-making for example (no matter how generously you stuff the gullets of human beings, the next day there they are again, drooling and famished as if never fed, no magically multiplying fishes or loaves ever enough, cursed with hunger till the day they die, cursed!). What a sad bunch of insatiable greedy-guts, thought Willow, making the world vanish a mouthful at a time, she herself the worst offender, hungry, hungry, ceaselessly hungry. As Willow wiped the sleep from her eyes, which now loomed in the sky, she imagined, like two gluttonous moons, she noticed tiny limbs scattered on the ground, bodies neatly butchered, arms and tongues and legs and eyeballs, fingers and ears, brains and hearts, strewn everywhere as if to fertilize the clearing, and she picked up an arm and held it be- tween her fingers. It was bloodless and rubbery with the weensiest fin- gernails, like a doll’s arm. But it wasn’t a doll’s arm. She gathered all the parts she could find into the aching marsupium of her mouth, some of them still trembling with reflex, and she cradled her weighted muzzle in her hands. Life begins, life begins, life begins with me, she sang. She stood towering, and the air she noticed was so thin, her head felt like a helium balloon making a break for the heavens, drifting ever farther from her. The hard ground beneath her feet, miles and miles away now, rose up quickly and walloped her in the face.

118 That morning, the town awoke to find itself purged of children. The women who wailed at the birth-hour fell silent, and time stumbled forward without anyone noting its passage. The phantom pains that would soon stab them, their fingers, their belly, their heart, an aching for which there was no suitable thunder, would be the weight of their child’s face in their hands, an arthritic longing that would quickly gnarl their grasp. Now the sound of stifled sorrow was the music to which people stepped in Kingdom Come, eyes always searching the night sky or the banks of the river for some sign of Matilda and Ephraim, Ezekiel and Hannah… There were those who said the children, so suggestible, had surely fol- lowed the rabbits into the river, had wanted to see where the river would lead the unwanted, but no bodies were found on the rocks and dragging the river yielded only the usual detritus, milk bottles and boxing gloves and birdcages and saxophones and cowboy boots and bear traps and kitchen sinks and rocks some folks thought the water had whittled into the winsome visage of the Blessed Virgin (not that these Lutherans ever paid the Virgin much heed—a virgin who appears in a bowl of wheatina or cries blood on holy days, always making a spectacle of herself that one, snort). Others said perhaps the children had misplaced their innocence— it had gone down gurgling with the last accursed rabbit—and now were fearful of their own end so had left to seek out the seductive gloom of the Transylvania they had secretly read about in their closets at night and the immortalizing incisors of those merrily exsanguinated Undead. And there were the devout and hopeful (though famished hope always fades when unfed) who were convinced the children had traveled into the howling wilderness and were crusading with wayfaring Flagellants, spreading the Word between yelps: God ow God ow God ow God. Still others believed the children, who had all been feverish the night before, contracted a wandering disease that afflicts only the small-footed and were somewhere on the plains wading barefoot through prairie grass, walking themselves to death. This theory gathered the most momentum among the townsfolk for a time because the one memento the children had left behind was their shoes, pairs of which could be found sitting empty throughout the town, in the sorghum field, beneath a linden tree, in a hayloft, the gazebo, because the children, raised right, hadn’t wanted

119 to soil Death’s immaculate lodgings and so had politely removed them and left them at the door. Of course it was alarming to think the portal to eternity could open beneath anyone’s feet, even the blameless feet of infants, at any moment. But behind this speculation was the unspoken conviction that it was Herr Pfeiffer who was the source of their blue ruin, and that’s when joyful noise was officially outlawed in Kansas, even songbirds verboten, and birds remapped their migrations around the flatlands, flying hundreds of miles out of their way, because of course rare is the bird who can abide a soundless sky or a morning awakened by silence. Even crows, those nattering gossips, like a melodious sunrise. Few people recall that the sky over Kingdom Come was once yel- low with canaries. After the children disappeared, canary hunters picked them out of the air one by one, and now nothing sings in Kansas. Widow Winkler tried to muzzle her sweet Petunia, who was known to whistle all of Waldszenen with little encouragement, and hid her in the cellar, but canary trackers eventually sniffed her out and forced their way into the widow’s house, armed with a bow the size of a swallowtail butterfly and a quiver of wee arrows they slung over their thumbs, and between two fingers the town fletcher, Kingdom Come King of the Popinjay, held the arbalest, and with index finger and thumb carefully nocked then shot an arrow (whose flights were fletched with the feathers of other slain canaries) into Petunia’s terrified heart. She was frantically warbling the beginning of “The Bird Prophet,” trying to forestall her own fate, when the arrow struck her, and the marksman wept when she fell to the ground. Not long after, Widow Winkler herself gave up the ghost, the only thing aside from Petunia and Schatz she’d been halfheartedly clinging to for years, Petunia lying on the pillow next to her, the tiny ar- row lodged in her breast as though she were little more than a cocktail sausage spindled on a toothpick. When the blood rains began, a week after the children disappeared, Kingdom Comers knew better than to believe what the scientists were saying, which was that the raindrops had merely collided with iron oxide on the way down, consumptive steel mills having coughed the red dust into the atmosphere. Parents, however, were wise to the ways of a car- nivorous universe and they knew they were being rained on by their own

120 children, that it was their children’s blood that ran down their cheeks, and they put out mason jars in which to collect it, but the next day the jars were always empty, no residue of red rain remaining on the glass. Some people stayed up all night watching the jars, waiting to see the blood vanish, daring it to disappear in their presence, their own blood! But blood’s a born mesmerist, and it waited for the eyelids to droop with fatigue, then allakhazam: there blink gone, like everything in the world. Most people believed God was not dead, despite the headlines, but even the formerly pious decided all the same to wash their hands of Him and to store the rackabones of their souls at His house. After the rain had fallen, the town appearing mauled, people would find a ribbon or pair of glasses, a sock, a necklace, that belonged to one of their children, and the church, long deserted and waiting to be razed by God’s notorious pug- nacity, was converted into a reliquary, where all these items were stored. The shoes they lined up neatly beneath the pews. Parents now spent their days compiling lists of regrets, page upon page, an entry for each day in the child’s life they were sorry they would miss, and they placed their book of documented mourning into their children’s shoes, hoping these too might disappear, might fly up and out of the world. Of course many things vanish from this world without a moment’s warning— prosperity, sanity, umbrellas, love—but not sorrow, never sorrow: sorrow always wears thin its welcome. The town resented having a witness to an abduction but no earthly solution to the crime, especially a witness who’d suspiciously doubled in size, swelling to decidedly unfeminine proportions over night, and it showed Willow its back. People whispered that Willow was a wicked species of with a dash of ravenous in her genes and that she had crawled out of a cave when she was born and chosen this town to menace because it boasted more children than most, a fertile town Kingdom Come. Always suspected that one would be nothing but trouble, they said, body like that. Some said they knew for a fact she ate children, swallowed them whole like aspirin—Just look at her! No pork cutlet ever made a body grow like that!—and if you cut open her stomach, you’d find them all there waiting to be extracted, poor little tumors, clutching their cold feet. Other peo- ple said they saw her dancing at night under a gibbous moon, skin blue

121 as a plum, trying to persuade it to flaunt its full belly every quarter, tempt it to wax and wax like her. Willow grew and grew, big as the Alps, into the sky, beheaded by clouds, ruptured the sky over Kingdom Come, con- sorting with birds, and people said she was taking up space that should have been inhabited by children. Sometimes they bit her sturdy ankles and she let them. No one ever again mentioned those infernal rabbits infested with misery. Willow, no grumbler, took it on her sizable chin like a champ. She had known what it was like to be the object of the boundless adoration of a small boy, a wondrous thing. It was only fair, she thought, that she should know too what it is like to be loathed, to be thought an abomina- ble cannibal demon. Her parents bore the shame of being the only par- whose child survived the fateful piping, and her mother spent her days baking custard pies and cherry cobblers and apple slump, basting briskets, simmering succotash, whipping up griddlecakes for breakfast, canning rhubarb and peaches, all for the other parents, who promptly tossed every grubgift she brought them into the trash or left it sitting on the stoop for the fattened foxes and lonesome dogs kicked to the curb. They’d eat nary a morsel prepared by the mother of evil, let them waste to bone first! At night, while her parents sat in a darkened parlor, Willow lay on her back and tried to stitch the stars together in the image of Oggie, and she thought to herself that the sky was as good a guardian as any, certainly more able than humans, who are so fallible it’s always merely a matter of time before they make a mess of all they touch. The universe will one day stop to rest its weary remains and then give up, thought Willow, refuse to be provoked into being again, by a big bang or a seamstress mole with an endless skein of thread or a week of Godly labor or a dismembered deity whose parts are itching to be reanimated in the shape of mountains and rivers, because humans will have finally and irreversibly swapped love for war, life for death, and bloodied the planet but good, caused it to hemor- rhage beyond all stanching.

122 The last sound Kingdom Come ever heard was the sound of the earth shuddering as Willow Himmelfarb walked into the river and the murmur of the water as it parted around her legs, which stood stalwart as silos, then she sat down and her body dammed the river, and the towns- people slept for the first time since their children had disappeared, slept in their children’s beds. There wasn’t enough river for Willow to drown herself—there wasn’t enough water in all of Kansas for that—but the water rose and rose around her and flooded the land, swallowing prairie and crops and automobiles and barns and threshers and finally hous- es, cleansing the town of its heartache, the parents of the lost children gushing forth out of bedroom windows, bobbing in the escaped river beside coffee pots and overcoats and lampshades and adding machines and pitchforks and sneakers and tubas and yo-yos and incomplete sets of encyclopedias, singing, singing, singing, singing, happily abducted by water.

for Alena Kathleen Wilson

123 Dara Wier The Wizard 

t dawn and at dusk I leave the house to graze in the meadow a beyond the river. There’s a trail I’ve covered with straw to follow and a convenient string of boulders I can use to make my way across the water. I sleep all through the day and work through the night. It’s rare for me to ever see another soul. No need to see another. I’m lost in my ex- periments when I’m awake and overtaken by dreams of another world, a world uninhabited by humans, when I’m asleep. And I have my birds. It comforts me to know they’re roosting when I’m working. When I’m sleeping, their clicks, calls, and song provide a soundtrack for my dreams. With you in mind I work to continue with what we had started before you departed. With you in mind when my spirits pale I go on. There are ways in which what I do conflicts with what I know you’d intended. This is why I sometimes yearn for some way to contact you directly. If I push things one way, I think of how you would have shown me to push in another direction. I often imagine your eyes searching through mine. I’ve tried to imagine your face as it was the last time I saw you. Too pain- ful for me to bear, so I resort to recalling other earlier less final trans- actions. It is possible for me to allow your hand to substitute for mine when I turn a key or dim the lights in the morning. It is permissible to remember where we were standing when we first noticed one another. I do have photographs of you I keep in a pewter box in a cabinet. At times I succumb to your absence’s toll while allowing myself to unlock the cabinet. It’s usually when my work has gone especially wrong that I do this. One of the pictures had not much drawn my interest until I noticed beside you where you were seated a large glass fish bowl of bro- ken beach glass. It had been the fashion to tint photographs during the time I imagine this one had been taken. I can’t be sure if the faint blues and pinks were added or if the picture represents an accurate register of the beach glasses’ vaguely nostalgic colors. It fascinated me to picture

124 you collecting what appears to be at least a few hundred pieces. I recall your telling me how rare it had become by the time you were living on the island to find these things. Who often knows why one remembers one thing in place of another. Perhaps one invents a memory one would prefer to have. By doing so, one is then able to feel implicated, intrinsi- cally necessary to the heart of the matter. When I think of you, as I do more and more often, it has become my habit to see you at dusk or at dawn walking on the beach, searching for another pale blue bottle lip or ghostly pink neck to add to your collection. I’m aware you’ve never spo- ken to me of walks on a beach or an afternoon on a porch, and yet when I submit my mind to reflect on you and what you have meant to me, it is to this version of you I surrender. Lately I’ve grown envious of a phantom I’ve imagined taking the picture. My rival for your affection. I now see on your face a most luxurious look of complicity and pleasure. It disturbs me that I’m fascinated by a fishbowl of glass of which you take no notice. I’m ashamed of the terrible need I feel to have been with you on the day the picture was taken. I’m embarrassed when I find myself holding the camera while I lean against a porch rail having just delivered for your amusement a spark of wit or a bit of mischief. Your hands, which I’ve often believed to be the most beautiful hands in the world, are raised to- ward the photographer in such a way that makes it plain you’re offering them up for inspection. I see my face reflected in window glass behind where you are seated. When this occurs to me, I feel too weak to take my next breath. I sometimes find myself seated at a table looking at a basin of water in which my hands appear to be floating. My skin, puckered and wrinkled, the way skin is that’s long been immersed in water. My mind will have stopped working, as if a mind can be regulated with a switch. I’ve become accustomed to having to wait, sometimes for days at a time, before having another thought. Who are you, who uses me this way, to say what he wishes to say?

125 IMANTS ZIEDONIS Translated by Bitite Vinklers Two Tales  The Yellow Tale

The sun, like a bright golden egg, gleamed in the sky. There was life within the sun: baby chicks, all light yellow, descended to earth along the sun’s rays. Later on the chicks will strut about in other colors, but they all arrive a sunny yellow. Honeybees, too, are yellow, and so is their hive. One day they invited a chick inside, but the door was too small. That’s all right, the chick thought, the meadow is full of butterflies, as yellow as me—I’ll fly around with them. He leaped into the air, then remembered he didn’t have wings yet, only little spurs at his sides. It’s all right, he decided; when I grow up, I will fly high. He snuggled against a mother hen’s yellow down and fell asleep. The sun glistened like a golden pancake, with scrumptious, crunchy edges. The bees, like small yellow balls, zoomed across the meadow from one yellow dandelion to the next, then crawled back into their hive. It resembled a big yellow library: frames of honeycombs were stacked to the ceiling. The honeycombs themselves looked like tiny six-sided TV sets, but instead of a screen there was the sheen of honey. Fields, meadows, and hillsides with yellow wildflowers—buttercups, cowslips, dandelions—stretched to the horizon. And now if you looked at the sun, it seemed to have slept on one of the hills and rolled in yellow pollen. The meadows were so bright I, too, couldn’t resist: I lay down among the yellow flowers, and soon was completely covered with pollen. After a while a yellow cow came along, mistook me for a dandelion, and ate me up. So now I have to stop writing.

126 The Blue Tale

A blue horse in a field of bluebells. Yes, a blue horse. I saw him yesterday. He was eating bluebells, and I know why he is blue. Horses from the whole world had gathered for a conference. All of them—chestnut, white, bay, black, sorrel, dun, dappled, gray—were worried. “If machines take over the world,” they said, “we may become extinct. Already our birth rate has declined. And our elders get shipped off to -raising farms. Let’s create a horse who will be eternal!” They decided the eternal horse would be blue: the color of longing and hope, of hyacinths, anemones, forget-me-nots. They named him the Blue Horse of Hope and gave him blue wings. He would be guardian to all who yearned. And because the lonely yearn the most, the blue horse would live alone. He would have no friends, no mate, no blue colts; he would be unique and eternal. The blue horse grew sad, but the others said sadness was blue and suited him. “You are a horse from a dream,” they said. “If you eat and drink like us, your blue color will fade and you will die. You must eat forget- me-nots and other blue flowers. Go play in the blue sky, swim in the blue sea! When you are thirsty, look for a blue spring flowing with hope: Somewhere beyond a blue mountain, in a blue forest where, among the spruces, three blue alders grow. Where thunder, with three blue bolts, is hunting hares. Where three blue clouds have fallen asleep in a blue bar- rel. Where…well, you’ll find it yourself. But if you don’t, drink only from pails and bowls that are blue. “Remember, you must live far away, in the distant blue haze. Peo- ple searching for hope gaze into the distance, into the sky, forest, sea. You can approach others only in the twilight of dusk or dawn.” And so we see him seldom. Almost never. But in early spring, when thrushes return and anemones blossom under the hazels, look carefully: do you see his hoof prints? Look in the garden: has he eaten the hya- cinths? In summertime, walk quietly past the flax in bloom and fields of rye with cornflowers. The blue horse is grazing there.

127 One day last spring, he ate the blue flowers printed on Inta’s para- sol. She was sitting at the edge of the woods, absorbed in studying for her geometry exam. On the way home she discovered all the blue flowers, even the tiniest, had been nibbled away; only the yellow ones remained. Another time, on an excursion, we stopped to picnic in a meadow and spread a cloth embroidered with blue plums; when we returned from a swim, the plums were gone. And he is especially fond of blue hair rib- bons. In the winter you might see him, at dusk, under the spruces—shiv- ering from cold and licking their long blue shadows in the snow. But if you want to see him up close, maybe even snap a picture, some evening leave him a big bowl of blueberry dumplings. He can’t resist blueber- ries. If you get a chance to ride him, you’ll see the whole world in blue: blue rabbits, puffballs, wild cherry blossoms. Blue wonders. Like the blue horse himself. They say he lets only poets ride him. But if you offered him a hand- ful of blue oats… Do you have a handful of blue oats?

128 It’s Very Early

It’s very early. The sun hasn’t opened its eyes. Mother hasn’t started to rock my cradle, and Father hasn’t gone out to care for the horses. The boots by the door are still asleep; thresholds and footpaths are asleep. Yesterday still lies between the floorboards. A sigh remains in the dishtowel, a swearword smolders in the ashes in the stove. But nighttime sleep has turned into morning sleep, and at cockcrow the hat on the table wakes up. It’s early, but the hats on their pegs are greeting me, and now I must go. I don’t even exist yet. I have never walked, reached for a door latch, gone singing through the morning dew on the grass. I have never seen the sun. They said it rises at the third cockcrow, or maybe it was the fourth, but the moment is near, for the men have stopped snoring and the curtains are growing red. I step across my first doorsill, from nonbeing and the unremem- bered into the morning mist: my childhood. There is no sun, the air is cool, damp, and the footpath leads into fog. In the whiteness I can make out the well. So the first path leads from the doorsill to the well. I’ll remember: a linden to the right, a rowan to the left, green grass along the path of hard-packed earth. It’s the only path I know; I’ll remember it. I lean over the rim of the well: somewhere far down gleams water. I call down “Aaah!” and my voice comes back like a song from a choir. Above the well, a pail rocking, like a cradle from a bough. Who dips it into the well if no one is here? Who needs this water so far down? Then the door swings open, and Mother comes out and says, “Soon it will be day. And soon you’ll be my son.”

129 The Cobblestones

The cobblestones poke out their heads from under the pavement, check for oncoming cars, and flee into the nearest courtyard. Today is migration day, and stones are leaving the city in hordes. On the outskirts of Riga they’re piled up at the railway crossing. On the Tallinn highway, long processions head north to the seaside resorts. Stones wade into the sea, and gaze at the sun with blue stone eyes. Green-bearded, snail-covered stones wade ashore, but don’t know where to go. “Anywhere else but here! Maybe a garter snake coiled on a fieldstone is warmer than an eel in the bay. Maybe wildflowers are pret- tier than water lilies.” Stones crawl across the beach like giant turtles. I can see their enormous discontent. Rivers churn as in spawning time, the backs of stones surface and vanish. Leaving their rapids behind, others head through forests and fields for the highways. “Why don’t highways have rapids? Why do cars skim the surface like water fleas, why don’t they swirl and eddy?” I touch the forehead of my fieldstone. It, too, is restless. Its breath- ing is shallow, its temperature rises and falls. “You don’t need to go anywhere,” I say, “you’re in the most beauti- ful place already.” Thousands of fieldstones wait in line at the jeweler’s: they’ve heard there are stones in watches and rings. A doltish gray fieldstone asks a diamond in a wristwatch, “How did you get in there? Did you have connections?” Stones from birch groves enter salons, get their moss dyed, and come out looking all alike. Stones that were fragrant from hops, meadowsweet, and lindens now reek of perfume. “You don’t need to go anywhere, you warm and good stone,” I tell mine. “You won’t be grander anywhere else. Look, soon all around you the rye will bloom—it has been grown here for ages.” But the stone doesn’t look at the rye, only the tracks of stones that have left. My wristwatch is fidgeting. Through the ticking of the seconds I hear a diamond addressing the others: “We, the refined ones, we should be ashamed of our refinement! Today, when we can participate in laying

130 cement foundations!” I feel the diamonds have been converted, that the rhythm of my watch will be ruined. I open the lid, ready to speak, but the agitator jumps into cement mix. It has jumped into cement, but it was supposed to keep time. And now is worth no more than gravel. I tell the others, “You in the cogwheel, you are the axis of time, irreplaceable. Be steadfast! Time must be imperturbable.” How steady are the doorstones at thresholds, the gravestones in cemeteries! (Gravestones, honoring those we love, will be the final thresholds.) But as I sit down on a doorstone, I feel it’s uneasy. I ask, “Where will you go? Where will it be better?” “Where only honest footsteps enter the house.” And it gets up and leaves. So does the neighbor’s. Restless myself, I follow them. Doorstones are reliable, and I want to know what they will do. They gather in the stonecutter’s yard. Some are young, newly polished, others old and worn. The stonecutter says, “You must raise your expectations. Today a doorstone is not only functional, it is the X- ray, the magic eye, of a house. I say this especially to you, doorstones of buildings that shelter ideas—academies, museums of art. Go back and stand taller!” I walk back home beside them. We pass many stones that did not go to the stonecutter’s yard. Thousands are still running around, but I stay with the doorstones, the most serious and responsible stones. When this day of unrest is over, their watchfulness will continue. From now on, as I begin to enter a house, my heart will tremble: what if the doorstone won’t let me?

131 Contributor Notes

Ivy Alvarez is the author of Mortal (Washington, DC: Red Morning Press, 2006). A MacDowell and Hawthornden Fellow, the Coun- cil for the Arts and the Welsh Academi both awarded her a grant to write poems for her second manuscript. www.ivyalvarez.com

A fairy tale is a wish and a , a worry bead to rub as you fall asleep.

Philip Beidler has taught American literature at the University of Ala- bama since completing his Ph.D. at the University of Virginia in 1974. His recent books include Late Thoughts on an Old War (2004) and Ameri- can Wars, American Peace: Notes from a Son of the Empire (2007).

As a lifelong student of early American literature, I have been struck repeatedly by how Americans have tried to invent their foundational through the storytelling strategies we associate with fairy tales— and, as often, through the creative plagiarizings of specific texts. One of the great books of my early career was the poet Daniel Hoffman’s Form and Fable in American Fiction, which showed how this kind of cultural ventriloquism enriched classic American writing. It also showed how criticism itself could be a form of cultural mythmaking.

Margo Berdeshevsky currently lives in . Her debut poetry col- lection, But a Passage in Wilderness, was published by The Sheep Meadow Press in 2007. Her writing has appeared in Agni, New Letters, The South- ern Review, The Kenyon Review, Poetry Daily, Chelsea, Runes, Poetry International, Margie, Pool, Siècle 21, , Nimrod, Rattapallax, ACM, Women’s Studies Quar- terly and other journals. A “visual poem” series, The Ghosts of Versailles, was seen at the Parisian Galerie Benchaieb.

I particularly love a line written by Jean Cocteau which says “The poet is a liar who always speaks the truth.” For me—fairy tale is that

132 place where the poetic and the lie meet. A poetic, often metaphoric telling—which leads through the maze like a golden thread to a truth, while we accept it as mere story. How could it be so true? And then we know that it is. This fascinates me.

Ann Fisher-Wirth’s third book of poems, Carta Marina, will appear from Wings Press in 2009. She is also the author of Five Terraces and Blue Win- dow, and of the chapbooks The Trinket Poems and Walking Wu-Wei’s Scroll. Her poetry has received numerous awards and is published widely. With Laura-Gray Street she is coediting a contemporary ecopoetry anthology, Earth’s Body. She teaches at the University of Mississippi.

As a child I was fascinated with, terrified of, and repelled by the Grimm fairy tale “The Robber Bridegroom.” Not surprisingly, it is rarely anthologized; the tale of a cannibalistic robber band who chop young virgins up in their forest stronghold, and of the girl betrothed to the leader of the gang who outwits him to expose him, takes sa- domasochism to a pretty sick extreme. But I found the lure of secret knowledge compelling, and the conjunction between death and love. This is what links “The Robber Bridegroom” with the myth of Perse- phone, the maiden who goes down into the underworld to become the bride of death. Transformed, they must rejoin the daylit world full of ambivalence because of what they have seen, the dark kingdom where they have been.

Tony Friedhoff has an MFA in poetry from the University of Massa- chusetts. His poems have appeared in The Comstock Review, Black Warrior Review, and Pleiades. He teaches writing at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.

Fairy tales appeal to me for the same reasons that poetry, dreams, and appeal to me—the casual coexistence of the real and the unreal, the solid outlines of the characters and their surroundings, and the way they plot out psychological and spiritual truths on a physical grid. They fuzz the line between the sophisticated and the primitive, which is how that line should look.

133 Arielle Greenberg is the author of My Kafka Century ( Books, 2005) and Given (Verse, 2002) and the chapbook Farther Down: Songs from the Allergy Trials (New Michigan, 2003). She is co-editor of two forthcoming anthologies: with Rachel Zucker, Women Poets on Mentor- ship: Efforts and Affections (Iowa, 2008); and with Lara Glenum, Gurlesque (Saturnalia, 2009). She is the poetry editor for the journal Black Clock, a founder and co-editor of the journal Court Green, and the founder- moderator of the poet-moms listserv. She is an Assistant Professor at Columbia College Chicago and lives in Evanston, IL.

My daughter is two and a half, a voracious and imaginative book-lover, as I was at her age. Fairy tales were a huge part of my life as a child, and constantly show up in poems I write, but as a parent I worry that they are too dark for my child, who is sensitive and easily scared, as I was, not to mention the often distasteful things they say about girl- hood or about humanity in general. So thus far I have kept her away from them. But should I? Or should I expose her at this young age to material that has both haunted me and obviously sated deep needs for potent and story? That is crucial for cultural literacy?

Evan Harris is the author of The Art of Quitting (Barrons). Over the years, her short fiction has appeared in various magazines, includingThe Iowa Review, Jane, Fence, Open City, and The Brooklyn Rail (in which portions of her story originally appeared). Evan lives in her native East Hampton, Long Island, with her husband, sculptor Hiroyuki Hamada, and their two sons.

Fairy Tales seem to me to hold a special capacity for describing truth— metaphorical and psycho/emotional truth… Fairy Tales are honest (if not always totally direct…) about what they know. That is very appeal- ing! When I write using or narrative qualities associated with Fairy Tales I feel bound to stick with what is necessary and try for economy and cross out anything that doesn’t seem right when I read it out loud. That is how I try to honor the truth-telling aspect of the Fairy Tale. This is the best I can do so far.

134 MC Hyland’s poems have recently appeared in Colorado Review, LIT, H_NG- M_N, and The Paris Review.

One of my clearest childhood memories is of being told the Grimm brothers’ story “The Juniper Tree” at day camp when I was about ten. The story thrilled (and continues to thrill) me, with its depiction of an impossibly colorful and infinitely cruel world, in which shiny trinkets, talking birds, and cannibalism coexist with a logic that is both foreign and absolute. It’s a world I find myself returning to again and again, in my love of the gaudy and the sinister, in my attempts to push far beyond the plausible, both in writing and in life.

Lesley Jenike’s first book of poemsGhost of Fashion is forthcoming from the CustomWords imprint of WordTech Press in 2009. Her poems have appeared recently in Verse, Court Green, POOL, Gulf Coast, Sou’Wester, Brooklyn Review, Memorious, Washington Square and others. She’s currently a doctoral candidate at the University of Cincinnati.

Fairy tales played a very important role in my childhood education. They taught me what it means to be a girl, who I should fall in love with, and what I should expect for my future. But when I was a teen- ager I read Anne Sexton’s Transformations and everything changed…

Kamila Lis is a doctoral student in English at the University of Virginia. She lives in Charlottesville and enjoys stories about underground lairs and people dancing in rings.

Fairy tales have always proved a source of inspiration, particularly so in the ease with which they conflate the familiar with the horrific.

Ashley McWaters is an instructor at the University of Alabama, where she is the Coordinator of Undergraduate Creative Writing. Her man- uscript, Whitework, was a 2006 finalist in the National Poetry Series and the Four Way Books Intro Prize. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Painted Bride Quarterly, DIAGRAM, Northwest Review, Ca- ketrain, Spinning Jenny, Fairy Tale Review, Carolina Quarterly, and Pindeldyboz,

135 among others. She lives in Tuscaloosa with husband Scott, daughter Posey, and dogs Tallulah and Olive.

At our house we have David Bowie narrating Profokiev’s “Peter and the Wolf,” it seems, nearly around the clock; my two-year-old daugh- ter is obsessed. Her reaction, a mix of fear and fascination, was im- mediate, and seems very like the emotional response that drives our attraction to fairy tales at any age. The wolf eats the duck whole: scary! At the end of the story, we can hear the duck quacking inside the wolf’s belly: weird! I can only imagine how it all plays out in my toddler’s brain, this near-primal fascination with the grotesque. It’s a fascination we never grow out of.

Barbara Jane Reyes was born in Manila, Philippines, and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area. She is the author of Gravities of Center (Arkipel- ago, 2003), and Poeta en San Francisco (Tinfish, 2005), for which she re- ceived the James Laughlin Award of the Academy of American Poets. She lives with her husband, poet Oscar Bermeo, in Oakland.

The mermaid has been a major poetic preoccupation of mine for a long time. Originally from the Philippines, which is comprised of 7,107 is- lands (apparently, 7,108 at low tide), I have had relative difficulty in finding mermaid stories, perhaps due to the Christianization of the islands and hence, the Christianization of old stories involving female figures. A century of English instruction and Hollywood have made ’s and ’s mermaids more well- known to Filipinos. Also contributing to Philippine mermaid stories’ relative “scarcity” is the industrial pollution of major bodies of water.

Timothy Schaffert is the author of three novels: The Phantom Limbs of the Rollow Sisters, The Singing and Dancing Daughters of God, and Devils in the Sugar Shop. He is a contributing editor to Prairie Schooner, and the direc- tor of two nonprofit literary events: the Nebraska Summer Writers’ Conference and the (downtown) omaha lit fest.

I was never much of a realist growing up. As a kid, I found most chil- dren’s literature to be too stiflingly highbrow, and I resented being

136 expected to relate to the characters, to be impressed by their moral gumption. I preferred comic books, but only if the characters were squat, plump, and cartoonish—Casper the Friendly Ghost, Wendy the Good Little Witch, Hot Stuff the Little Devil: comics full of children mostly aban- doned to strange worlds and absurd predicaments (Hot Stuff, appar- ently, living in hell; Casper, apparently, a dead little boy), while saddled with poor parenting (by aunts, uncles, or in Richie Rich’s case, a man- sion full of servants). Their slight suggestion of the inappropriate gave them the appeal of the fairy tales I’d always enjoyed, especially those tales in which the adults were venal and nasty, and the dark forests— with its witches and spirits—far more inviting than the family hut. Even though the comics were chockfull of yuks, the fairy tale’s sublime whispers of endangerment never seemed far from their bubbly dia- logue balloons

Kurt Schwitters (1887–1948) is widely recognized as one of the most important German Dadaist artists.

Bitite Vinklers is a translator of Latvian folklore and contemporary lit- erature. Her translations have appeared in anthologies and periodi- cals, most recently in The Paris Review, Seneca Review, Words Without Borders, and Denver Quarterly. She lives in Brooklyn.

In the work here by the Latvian poet Imants Ziedonis, the genres of fairy tale and poetry merge; the tales and the prose poems are stylisti- cally indistinguishable. Ziedonis delights us with unexpected trans- formations, personifications, and juxtapositions. He draws us in by speaking in the first person (unusual for fairy tales) and by addressing the reader, and he shows a great closeness to nature, which is central to his own work and to Latvian folklore.

Kellie Wells was awarded the Flannery O’Connor Award for her collec- tion of short fiction, Compression Scars. Her novel Skin was published in 2006 by the University of Nebraska Press, as part of the Flyover Fiction Series. “Rabbit Catcher of Kingdom Come” is part of Fat Girl, Terrestrial, a novel she’s currently at work on.

137 One of the things that most intrigues me about the tale of “The Pied Piper” is that it is the children who are, in a manner of speaking, held accountable for the sins of the parents, forced to square their debt: the children are enchanted into oblivion as a result of their parents’ skin- flintedness, and then the parents learn how to assign value properly. And I thought, so it is with God and mortals. Human beings are held accountable for the trespasses of God if creating, foreknowingly, a profoundly flawed and therefore doomed race of creatures who must die before inheriting everlasting life can be said to be the ultimate trespass. But what has God taught Himself to value? Fairy tales allow one to consider such unwieldy and flagrantly non-mimetic questions.

Dara Wier was born in New Orleans, Louisiana. Recent books include Remnants of Hannah and Reverse Rapture (awarded the Poetry Center & American Poetry Archives Book Award). Her poems can be found in Pushcart, Best American Poetry, Norton, Soft Skull and various other anthologies, and in American Poetry Review, , Crazyhorse, Denver Quarterly, jubilat, slope, Turnrow, New American Review, Volt. A limited edi- tion, (X IN FIX), is in Rain Taxi’s Brainstorm series. The Guggen- heim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Mas- sachusetts Cultural Council and the American Poetry Review have supported her work. She’s a member of the poetry faculty and director of the MFA program for poets and writers at the University of Mas- sachusetts Amherst and co-director of the Juniper Initiative for Liter- ary Arts and Action. With Guy Pettit and Emily Pettit, she edits and publishes chapbooks and broadsides for Factory Hollow Press.

Imants Ziedonis, one of Latvia’s most prominent writers since the 1960s, is the author of many volumes of poetry, literary nonfiction, children’s books, and a memoir. His work has been translated into nu- merous languages, including Swedish, German, Russian, and Polish, and he has received Latvia’s highest literary and state honors.

Jack Zipes is a Professor of German and Comparative Literature at the University of Minnesota. He has published numerous books on folk- lore and fairy tales. His most recent work, Why Fairy Tales Stick: The

138 Evolution and Relevance of a , won the 2007 Katharine Briggs Award (Folklore Society, UK). His translations of Kurt Schwitters appear in this issue.

There is more truth in fairy tales than in so-called realistic fiction and the news media. But the society of the spectacle has blinded us, and we have lost our ability to tell and recognize truth. Until we learn how to think metaphorically once again, we shall blunder through our lives without truth.

139 Acknowledgments 

A small portion of “The Future of Despair” by Evan Harris first ap- peared in The Brooklyn Rail, and we express our gratitude for permission to reproduce it here.

The image which appears at the end of “The Rabbit Catcher of King- dom Come” by Kellie Wells is a photograph by Paul Pleul, reprinted by permission of dpa Picture Alliance—Alliance GmbH (Ein Unterneh- men der dpa-Gruppe).

With continued gratitude to the generous support of the College of Arts & Sciences at The University of Alabama, and to the graduate students in the MFA Program at The University of Alabama for their intelli- gence and enthusiasm.

A number of anonymous donors are here acknowledged.

Long live fairy tales!

140 Announcements  Fairy Tale Review Press Distributed by Small Press Distribution

2008 Titles:

Lily Hoang CHANGING 01 Dec 2008 ISBN: 978-0-9799954-2-2 $14.00

At once a fairy tale, a fortune, and a translation told through the I Ching, Vietnamese-American author Lily Hoang’s CHANGING is a ghostly and miniature novel. Both mysterious and lucid at once, the book follows Little Girl down a century-old path into her family’s story. Changing is Little Girl’s fate, and in CHANGING she finds an unsettling, beautiful home. Like a topsy-turvy horoscope writer, Hoang weaves a modern into the classical form of the I Ching. In glassine sentences, fragmented and new, Jack and Jill fall down the hill over and over again in intricate and ancient patterns. Here is a wonder story for 21st century America. Here is a calligraphic patchwork of sadness.

“This is an impossible thing, a dream object” —Joyelle McSweeney, author of Flet.

141 Joy Williams The ISBN 978-0-9799954-0-8 $16 200 pp. Fiction

This 3oth Anniversary Edition of The Changeling by Joy Williams will include a Foreword by Rick Moody. An overlooked and spectacular novel, The Changeling is a visionary fairy tale, a work of mythic genius. Terrifying, poetic revelations follow The Changeling’s abandoned heroine Pearl everywhere she goes, whether by air, land, or sea. Joy Williams has won the Rea Award for the , the Harold and Mildred Strauss Living Award from the American Academy of Arts & Letters, among other prizes. Her first novel, State of Grace, was a National Book Award Finalist. “An inverse of a 20th-century feminine sensibility—our simpleton heroine ends a depraved alcoholic—the witty and horrifying Changeling establishes Williams as a major contemporary ” (Virginia Quarterly Review, 1978). The 3oth Anniversary Edition seeks to reintroduce this novel to contemporary readers as one of the most original and alarming fairy-tale books ever written.

142 Johannes Göransson Pilot (“Johann the Carousel Horse”) ISBN 978-0-9799954-1-5 $12 165 pp.

Pilot (“Johann the Carousel Horse”) is an assemblage, a book of nursery gone wrong in translation. Its strange characters, abandoned from other texts, include Lilja, the Pearls of Stockholm and assorted imperiled girls. Here, in Johannes Göransson’s glittering exocity, they find a new and beautifully stitched home. Göransson was born and raised in Skåne, , but has lived in the US for many years. He is co-editor of Action Books and has translated the work of Aase Berg, Henry Parland, Ann Jäderlund and other Swedish and Swedish poets.


144 eview R

s s u e I e t h i  ale W h e T T

airy F

Fairy Tale Review The White Issue Jack Zipes Jack Kamila Lis Dara Wier Ivy Alvarez MC HylandMC Evan HarrisEvan Kellie Wells Lesley Jenike Philip Beidler Philip Bitite VinklersBitite Tony Friedhoff Tony Imants Ziedonis Kurt SchwittersKurt ISBN-13: 978-0-8173-5531-9 ISBN-10: 0-8173-5531-6 Ashley McWaters Ann Fisher-Wirth Arielle Greenberg Timothy Schaffert Timothy Barbara Jane Reyes fairytalereview.com Margo Berdeshevsky