INTRODUCTION HEATHER FERGUSON Ottawa Heatwave CONTENTS SUSAN IOANNOU 1. Bagni di Lucca 2. Night Train Through Matapedia 3. In Search of New Credos MIKE SCHEIDEMANN A Day in the War Before the Advent of the Cellphone SRINJAY CHAKRAVARTI THE FROZEN WEATHERCOCK WHIPERS ON THE GLASS KINGDOM OF THE THUNDER DRAGON MANOR HOUSE, _FIN DE SIECLE_ _KALA PANI_ POST SCRIPTUM HEATHER FERGUSON Winter
HEATHER FERGUSON Ottawa Heatwave ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ - Do you remember the sunrise? The light was cool as watered silk. I woke from a fitful sleep. A breeze flowed in through an open window. Dawn cast its clarity into the room. - A period of grace, a sense of fleeting luxury. Yes. But time pressed on. I dressed and stepped into the street. Patches of shade formed in the rising day. I zigzagged from refuge to refuge. My path diverged again and again, and I lost my way. - Noon arrived too soon. It held the city fast. Mirages at every turn. I stumbled, blinded by curtains of light. I stood confused and afraid. - The city revolved around a burning centre point. And the crowds - What crowds? I remember walking alone through deserted streets. As afternoon gripped the city, towers buckled and flowed in great cascades. Torrents swept through canyons of steel and brick. - Do you remember the sunset, and how the city burned? I watched that conflagration with growing surprise. I remember the walls of flame, the sun reflected a thousandfold about me. A strange and sudden consummation: in one breath, my soul turned to ash. I turned my exhausted mind towards the west. Then I walked along the waterfront, along the edge of night. Darkness fell, and cool air enveloped me. The city lights flickered along the bank. ... Note: I owe the dialogue framework of this poem (Ottawa Heatwave) to Rona Murray, whose poem "The Lizard" suddenly resurfaced in my memory as I was beginning to write.
SUSAN IOANNOU BAGNI DI LUCCA ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ (for Merla McMurray and Harry Girling) I "Shelley stayed there . . ." The kindly professor smiled, hearing your travel plans. "Bagni di Lucca, high in the wooded Tuscan hillsides above the heat of the cities on the plains. "With Mary and Claire he made a villeggiatura, renting from a Signor Chiappa a small-gardened summer home, its arbour of laurel trees so thick the sun could not penetrate; no sound, except the rushing Lima through the valley below. "Closing Ariosto and Plato, morning and evening Shelley rode, or strolled by the river and up narrow paths noisy with cicala, sweet-singing birds, even a cuckoo, crisscrossing the chestnut woods. "Once, he climbed high as Prato Fiorito and in the meadow's decaying sweetness penned how violets, jonquils, and moss 'dart their arrowy odour through the brain Till you might faint with that delicious pain.' "At noon, hidden by alders where water 'transparent as air' spilled from steep rocks into pool below pool, naked, he sat, cooling little by little, reading Herodotus. "Of the landscape, he wrote to a friend: 'I take great delight in watching the changes in atmosphere here: thundershowers break towards evening to flocks of delicate clouds or, growing, overshadow the moon. Our fireflies are fading but over and over, pale summer lightning spreads across the night sky and lights home the low-flying owl.'" II Reciting from Shelley, white hair tilted back, did the professor return to Bagni di Lucca golden as dusk melting the Tuscan hills, or stroll toward sunlight, like Mary and Claire, along the ramparts of Lucca's 9th-century stone? Seventeen centuries, those Ancient Roman streets frilled outward to alleys and squares, buttressed themselves in three walls, and raising palace and church fattened on trade in agriculture and silks. Spreading up to the hills 16th- and 17th-century villas -Mansi, Torrigiani, Reale (home of Elisa, Napoleon's sister)- opened from frescoes, rococo facades to shady parks, where fountains hid lovers -even, perhaps, a youthful professor- slipping among nymphea and grottoes. III Eighteen kilometres out of the way skidding through high winds and rain, you fix on the kindly professor back home -the reason you rented this car and promised three grumbling friends a sylvan beauty like none they had seen. Steeled, you grip the slippery wheel and stare straight ahead through the sheeted panes. On either side splatter by smokestack, warehouse, factory, crane. At last, you turn off the highway to find from guidebook phrases long memorized "the countryside dotted with villas", and slithering down toward Devil's Bridge face Shelley's once exquisite view flooded-a valley oozing muck, plastic bags, and shreds of paper snaggled on branches and bushes. Below, approaching Lucca's bastioned walls "undoubtedly one of Italy's most beautiful cities", you squint through the windshield wipers for one of four streaming gates to the saints San Pietro, Donato, Paolino, or Santa Maria. Where is the Via del Anfiteatro, its "yellow mediaeval houses" looping "a green"? -Nothing but narrow facades whipped by the rain. Park. Is it worth getting soaked running to Duomo di San Martino, "a masterpiece in the Pisan style", for the "accurate portrait of Christ" high on the wood crucifix "carved in New Testament times by high-priest Nicodemus"? What shivering Santa Croce procession lights candles through the alleys tonight? A few steps ahead of the car, a café looks onto a lopsided square. Inside, crowd steamy tourists and children. Surely-you squeeze through, with a smile- hot pasta, carafes of red wine will soften the rain. Your friends' three dripping faces glare: You pay. IV "...a charming air, unscathed..." Ascending mud hills, sodden dales, why glance back? Shelley, your heart would burn. But what of the kindly professor at home awaiting night's fireflies? Tell him, as eyes turn away, "Yes, how lovely it was, Shelley's Bagni di Lucca."
NIGHT TRAIN THROUGH MATAPEDIA ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Nation-dreaming I Beyond the rocking window, dusk deepens from rose to royal blue as fading copses, fields race by pulling across two solitudes while the tracks click-clack and sidings veer off-behind leaving a lone inverted V where St. Hyacinthe disappears behind the dream that rattles and sways on into the night. Mile after mile, the darkness thickens. Ding-DING-ding, red flashes by. Street lamps bleach an intersection. Clustered houses dim and thin to village outskirts, moonlit farms. The land is heavy with shadows except above, a prick of light follows, forest by forest, field after field, a quiet constant, pinning the night over the shivering atmosphere. The Evening Star, it must be, first of a myriad needling through to steady grey metal rocking on, faster, nearer. II Slowing, the steel wheels spark and creak, turning and grinding around Lachine's rushing black water toothpicked with shadow bridges over dark foam, until whirlpools lengthen and calm like oil sliding slow toward shore. Far across, out of the darkness green glows on a rising horizon, Plains of Abraham phosphorescent atop great Citadel cliffs dropping to tiny glittering houses and, blackening at the base, the minuscule ovals of boats bobbing -a midnight city, old and foreign, so distant, yet magnificent, alone. Separation: dark's oily rippling. I wait and watch and wonder how long.... III Tumble to the brink of the berth, roll back into the wall, how fast these wheels are thumping and squealing upward and upward, straining as if to hold on to rusted joints. A few feet outside the blind, dark is a cliff straight up bristled steep with black pines so high I cannot see their tips, I cannot see the stars. Yanked between vertical sheets of rock, twisting higher and higher sleepers rattle onto a trestle where hundreds of metres down the river is snaking through granite and shale. Awakened, we are so small, what if this rattling dream plunges off? Cling to the long shadow curving ahead after its own golden beam, not to its chimera sliding below us separate under black water. IV Greying into first light, at last the berth levels out. Wheels shudder and spark, slowing. If I press my forehead against the glass and peer high beyond the blind I can see a faint thread bluing above the uttermost pine and gliding into view by the matchbox station a tiny truck parked up a dirt ribbon. A small figure is waiting for two men striding away from the train, shotgun and fishing rod, French, English, becoming with Native human specks warming like last stars the vast dawn of these Precambrian mountains, setting me, like a child, to waving for whatever ancient, enduring need has united them here. Sideward, the wheels groan and ride gently down and down. Faster and faster, chitter and chatter, yellow flashes off doubling tracks, lights up streaks on the dusty glass, shines leaves green, rock brown as blue pushes cliffs lower and lower levelling into summer-long grass, the sky an azure mirror backing Campbellton's golden bay where ridges and deep divides fade around the widening curve and Canada's dream rattles on one more day....
IN SEARCH OF NEW CREDOS ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ (a glose) Which of the daringly devised creations can beat us in our fiery enterprise? We stand and strain against our limitations and wrest in things we cannot recognize. = - Rainer Maria Rilke In Mediaeval times a Chain of Being linked lowly stone to lamb to man to angel. Even a hungering aphid dared to nibble the innermost pink of the sacred rose. Now, from stained glass, wings and paws scatter. Unfettered too, we tremble. Destinations? Unknown. No looking back. The wind swallows our voices. Naked of faith, we muddle onward snatching at shadows for transfigurations -but which of the daringly devised creations? Serve others? Worship Art? Or bend to learn? Dizzying with choices, back we fall. Hissing from the grass, a green shadow coils, hypnotic golden eyes aglow: Each be your own god. Then heaven's nearer. Stars? The bushes blink with fireflies. Moon? Right here-it shimmers in a puddle. Ripple your vast cosmos with a thumb. We nod. When we are gods, whose truth or lies can beat us in our fiery enterprise? Fiery? Staring at a dandelion we christen it a newborn sun-as if a name becomes the thing, breathes life from sound. But when myriad yellow weeds tuft up hither and thither, where is east? How spark dawn from dark without light's fluctuations? Can petals glow a buried seed to life? So much for worm's eye views. Look high. At noon blue burns us with its ancient revelations: we stand and strain against our limitations. What's left for us, long since the Chain was broken rusting over centuries, lost rings glimpsed in candlelight or chanting vestments? Far from Europe's spires, one Great Plain links rock to sweetgrass, wasp to buffalo, to Brave who, on Raven's wing, strokes wilder skies. God hunts and fishes this New World. His line hooks and flashes up that ancient Chain, while we still shield our gaze, too civilized, and wrest in things we cannot recognize.
MIKE SCHEIDEMANN A Day in the War ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Fresh breezes rippled in the balmy blue below. Rainbows strummed Lake Kinneret making chords hum. Beneath the bantering banana leaves, We lurked in the shades of an ancient, wasted heritage; We scorpions in uniform, Awaiting orders, freeing us to act. Heights lined the horizon like drums, Tolling the knell of another man's war. --Give us time,-- air-command had demanded And the razed brush blazed like symphonic scales Of sunlight teasing waves. The skies churned as black As the bowels of the earth. Then the words from the wireless wafted through silence; --Move in after me!-- The columns of armour and swift moving armaments Lurched into action. No one could boast that the going was good; Slopes steep as they were; our guns probing the sky Beyond enemy bunkers, Antennae, impotent as blind insects. Yet when we'd surmounted ravaged slopes, With the barrels of our arms still shining and cold, The plateau stretched ahead, All bleak, charred and shelled. No cohorts were gleaming with purple and gold, But the Syrian lay strewn Like a frieze out of hell.
BEFORE THE ADVENT OF THE CELLPHONE ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ The Assyrian came down like a wolf on the fold And their cohorts were gleaming with purple and gold. "Ariel, oh my God! What are you doing here?" He was as always, lean and spare-looking. His stance usually betrayed a slight stoop as if bowed before some invisible onslaught. Now something about his look, spelled emaciation. His blond, messy curls tumbled close to his fine eyebrows. It was late afternoon and his blue irises shone with a metallic light. Yet there was a softness about him that made him irresistibly human at least, to the women folk. He always seemed apologetic. His nose and chin were never pointed in an aggressive way. His whole posture suggested a readiness for flight as if he instinctively desired to turn tail in defense of his youthful self? As if by a stroke of irony, he is the hero of our tale. How often he had appeared suddenly at my doorstep. I must have represented staid, elderliness to him but he respected this in his own naive way. The morning glory on the wall of the veranda glowed about him like a wraith. Sometimes the three cornered, dark leaves of these generous blue flowers symbolised for me a conglomeration of skulls and cross-bones; when death seemed to be lurking in the wings. I love them now as I loved him. Before he had left for the front we had dared to conclude together, over a bottle of vodka that he was my brother; my son; my soul mate. "If it's sort of inconvenient, I can call another time." "No; no; you big stiff! It's just that we haven't heard from you, for so long." "It seems like forever, especially where I've been." "Why didn't you call; respond to our letters?" "What letters? We just didn't get a chance to get to a phone." I stared at him in disbelief. "I know what the army is like when it comes to communications. I went through it all in '67." "That was a very short war, wasn't it?" "Yes but the occupation went on forever. We use to queue up every night at the communications center just to get through to our families for a few minutes and the men shouting out, behind you. I gave it up after a while. Lori hinted that I should, I mean she would have to leave the baby and come to the call phone in the dining room. So much for Kibbutz life! We used to live on love, work and socialism. We didn't have phones at home. Meanwhile from the base we could hardly hear each other and sometimes intelligence used to break in to tell us that they had more urgent business on the line." "That war was before I was born but I don't think much has changed in peace or war." I felt like shouting; "Damn you, we thought you were dead." but I only said; "Considering that we have a war every dozen years you'd think something would progress around here. Anyway, I made contact with your parents in South Africa and they said that they had resigned themselves to the worst." "And sold my motorbike, no doubt." He grinned sheepishly. "Believe me, where I've been there was no communications with the real world." "Welcome; let me take your rifle. You know that our home is your home." "I know that and I love you for it. Up there we used to say, every day; welcome to hell." "Was it that bad. I don't remember it ever being that bad, even under fire." "Sometimes hell can simply be missing home. He looked away." It was that bad, out there, way over the red line." "It must have been. You look so thin." "I am thin and the worst part is that I have to go back there." "It will soon be over, I promise you." "How can you be so sure," he grinned for the first time. That was the best thing about him. He had this defiant if self-deprecating grin. "Because all things come to an end; just don't torment yourself with thoughts of escape." "There are no escapes." He was now maneuvering himself past me into the sitting room. "How is the family?" "Lori is in Tel Aviv with the kids; visiting her sister. Oh Ariel we were so worried about you." Again he grinned at me, this time over his shoulder. "You must phone your folks down in Louis Trichardt. You know they haven't heard from you in weeks." "Louis Trichardt; I can hardly think of the place. Yes later I"ll phone." "Ariel, I would willingly share some of this with you, if it would help. Guess what I did? I wrote a short story about you. Care to see my clumsy effort?" "Of course." "You won't like it; bad things happen." "Really, I can't imagine what." "But first we eat and drink if you like?" "Only vodka, nothing fancy. Save your whiskey for your casual visitors." "Anything for you Ariel; you know that. I have a most unpretentious, Israeli vodka." After indulging ourselves and exchanging pleasantries for an hour, Ariel seemed ready to read my work but not before I insisted that he take a shower. A murky smell had begun to permeate the room much like the mustiness of a cave. He was finally ensconced in my own armchair; his brow furrowed and he looked ready to read the script right to the end with a fixed concentration. Sometimes reading or studying someone's work is the finest form of dialogue. I tried to read something else but mostly I stared at his pale, face. Youth is so precious before time steals it away. The Hermon is a mountain for all seasons. Through morning mists, it breathes with an awesome stillness. By noon, even when drenched in vibrant heat, cool winds from verdant Israeli valleys blow over to pay it homage. It can radiate familiarity. Mystery can crouch in its darkest recesses. From snow-lined crevasses draw off a criss-cross of streams so that Hermon often resembles a beautiful eastern brushstroke. Today the secretive Druze draw mystical nourishment from her bold outline while rollicking masses of Israelis ride skis over her flanks but once Eliyahu sought exile there. When Parnassus invaded the Syrian plain, Hermon made a consummation with the cold streams of Banias and the god Pan was sired. The eve of Yom Kippur 1973 saw the shadow of the Hermon dotted with guards of the Israeli Defence Forces. One such soldier was Ariel, anticipating a new day perhaps. He was stiff with fatigue but his senses were keen. As a kid on the farm back in the Northern Transvaal, he'd learned to rest silently in heat or cold, observing the antics of zebra and wildebeest. One of his first questions had been; why were these two beasts always so close together? He'd learned not to flinch even when his back was crawling with flies. Now he watched the dawn's soft colours wash over the plain and the wind toss tattered cloud over the range. There were not many beasts of the field in hiding; only man. Occasionally a troupe of elegant buck appeared and he almost wept. "Ariel, are you awake?" Shimeon inquired, coming up to the entrance of the bunker. "Yes." "It's going to be another one of those hot days," Shimeon grinned. "Welcome back to mother earth." Ariel was staring into the pale gleam. There was hardly any blue except over the soft eastern flush; very different to tropic skies where the dawn flared quickly. At this time, around the jagged crags and dark pines in the heights above Louis Trichardt, his hometown, the world would be greeted by the bark of baboons. Here even the jackals had long ceased to howl. "It's never too hot up here," said Ariel. "There's always a cool wind blowing." "Well it's not like the heat where I come from. In New Delhi it's hot even when it is raining." Ariel looked at Shimeon as if for the first time. How he resembled any one of the countless Indians settled over the Transvaal, Paul Kruger's land. Yes, there were striking similarities to Joe, that Indian manager of his father's farm. He hadn't known the boss-hand very well. How well could he ever get to know Shimeon or anyone else for that matter. Of course they were totally different personalities. Was it possible that they both had inherited basic traits that might be called Indian? Was there such a thing as Indian genes? Culturally there were similarities. Ariel had learned the meaning of politeness from an early age but Shimeon like Joe had a graceful instinctive sense of consideration towards his fellows. Shimeon too, was undeniably a Jew. Where along the line did a handful of Indians become Jews? Ariel suddenly desired to invite discussion. "When did you do your army time?" He stared at the stripes on the elder man's shoulder. Shimeon was a reserve officer now. "It was at the end of sixty-six and I was to be caught up in the Six Day War. We were out here on that plain in sixty-seven. I'm an old hand with the Arabs. I've seen the whites of their eyes." "Do you ever relate to Arabs?" "Only when I have to, you cheeky bugger." "Of course you don't have to talk about it; I mean it might be too painful," Ariel said mischievously. "In times of peace I've got on famously with our cousins but when it comes to war, I've made sure that it was infinitely more painful for them, the Philistine. I've killed dozens of the horrible little men." "Little men!" "That's the way they looked through the sights of my gun and once I had them in my sights, believe me, I never stopped shooting." "I suppose once the shooting starts, it's them or us," Sighed Ariel. "It was always a nuisance taking prisoners; it slowed down our advance." Shimon's face suddenly became mask-like. "I must have been your age, then." "What did you do in the army, then?" Ariel wanted to know. "Tank gunner cum driver! I was in one of the first tanks up these heights and on the ascent, with the barrels of our guns vertical in the air, I couldn't have used my canon if I'd wanted to. We'll never know why they didn't fire their mortars down on us." "It's clear to me that they never really wanted to fight," risked Ariel wryly. "Rubbish! Don't have any illusions. If you ever see an Arab in uniform, close up, he's bent on one thing. It's them or us, as you said." "I hope I never have to see the whites of their eyes." "You're in the army because of them. You have been pushed into a situation. The Arab signs up because it's his way of life, his choice." Ariel tried not to smile superciliously but his smirk was not wasted on Shimeon. "Do you know why you are here, Ariel? You know what you must do if you see those little men looming up, over the horizon." Ariel laughed out aloud. "I see you're hooked on fighting." "You think it's an addiction? What is yours; sex?" Now it was Shimeon's turn to sneer. "Oh lay off. I'm sick of having to think about it. I'm tired of wondering why I'm here and what I'm doing." "You have to be somewhere and don't forget you made your circumstances but don't worry, when the time comes, you'll know what to do." "You mean I'll know how to act without thinking." "Call it what you like. I've always made it easy for myself. We see a column of the enemy to the North. 'Fire on them!' Comes the order! So I do. I fire until I hear the order; 'that's enough already, don't waste the bullets'." "Weren't you ever frightened?" "Real men," and he laughed; "are people who know and understand their own fear. I never panicked like some did. My tank has been hit three times. I finally learned that panic doesn't help. I've had to abandon my tank under heavy mortar fire and leave my crew for dead, behind me. I only survived because I was the driver, and I learned to be calm. Some see tanks as coffins on wheels. I see them as crazy beasts I used to drive from ditch to wadi; laughing and shouting, 'this is just like the movies; just like the movies.' You can only learn things like this, under fire." "I'd rather be fired on, than fire on a man," mused Ariel. "Oh! You talk like one who has experienced nothing. But don't worry. When you're facing them, it's them or you. There'll be nothing more to think about." "No matter how much training I have, I always feel it's just against my nature." "This is not about training and it is not about who you think you are. You are in a situation here and you must work with it to your best advantage." "Who's the philosopher now," smiled Ariel and didn't notice how intently, Shimeon was staring at him. "We're talking about survival man, not philosophy." Ariel's gaze was carried back into himself. He recalled the last threshing of a kudu's limbs, back on his father's farm. It was the first buck he'd ever shot. Those that followed were not so clear to him now. He and the Boss-hand, Joe had driven out into the early light when they finally saw him; a noble creature of God, if ever there was one. His horns had pierced the morning sky with six magnificent twists and he had stared at them brazenly from beneath the hairy tuft on his forehead with eyes placid as pools. His lower jaw had worked in slow, circular movements, chewing foliage, come what may. "Shoot now, he's waiting for you." Joe had whispered and Ariel's shot had ripped through the silence. The pact was over and a secret rapport with the world had been torn asunder forever. Quick surprise in the Kudu's eyes had preceded a rending yelp as the buck had spun around on his hooves and fled. His nose was like the core of a sunflower, pointed towards the rising sun. His horns had rested inconspicuously along his back. Then his striped ribs had begun to heave desperately. They had found his sundered hulk in death spasms about a half a mile away and his hoarse bark was to haunt Ariel for many nights to come; nights when he could not sleep and didn't know why. "He's a beauty," Joe had said. "Not any more," Ariel had replied and he had been infinitely saddened to see how easy it was to destroy beauty. Now he addressed Shimeon who had the same white sheen on his forehead that Joe used to bear in the early, Transvaal light. "Have you ever heard the cries of a dying buck?" "No. I haven't had the good fortune. I've only heard the death cries of my mates in the tank." "Well, let me tell you the way I feel right now. I'd sooner kill a man than such an animal. I had vowed not to kill any animal not even a stray dog." "Very noble! We went around poisoning stray dogs all over this plateau after the last war and we couldn't sleep that night." "Ah, a man with a conscience, I like that." "No. It was the howling of their death pangs that kept us awake. It was enough to arouse the dead." "Don't you like animals or is it all forms of life that you hate?" Shimeon bared his teeth at Ariel. "I've seen life and I've seen death and I have little time for sentiments about these things. Dogs are regarded as a delicacy in Korea." Ariel scowled down at his feet. "Look, I'm sorry to see someone like you in the army." He was looking at Ariel the way Joe sometimes did. The two soldiers turned away from each other and looked over the Syrian plateau, strewn with hills that they knew housed bristling enemy strongholds. The position that they occupied was a fine Syrian fortification of which the enemy proved past masters in the building of it. The Russians had shown them how to construct a complex if unwieldy 'Maginot Line' over the high ground. The bunkers nestled into the curve of the mountain, hardly conspicuous. Higher up was a radar station invisible from the plain. From several dugouts in Mt. Hermon's flanks peeped powerful telescopes with a range almost to Damascus. Before these sentinels lay primeval scrublands. Then they sloped into the fertile, cultivated fields of Israel. "Tell me more of your contact with death;" Ariel persisted like a boy. "I can't say I experienced it myself," Shimeon answered caustically. " The closest I've come to it was in burying some decomposing bodies out there." He indicated towards the plain. If they were the enemy, we used to take their belts and helmets home for souvenirs. More personal effects like their weapons had already been handed into the army." "You are macabre. When I was a kid at school I learned of the death of a friend out there somewhere. There was something so…" he paused to search for the word. "So close and intimate about that sad news. I'd known and spoken to him before he'd left for the Israeli front." "Everyone in Israel has a story like that to tell." "I was not here. I was safe in South Africa." "Tell me honestly. Aren't you glad you're not back there now?" "I've learnt one thing for sure. Nowhere is safe anymore." "Welcome to the real world. Ariel you must become more detached. When the shooting starts, you will be detached." "You're not asking for much." "You must be cool. It becomes almost a game and even when your friends fall beside you, death will seem far away. So it is until it strikes you." "Oh; and what do I do in the meantime; sing psalms?" "Take it easy. When you make your own strike you must make everyone count." "I can sense the excitement in all this; it's just not in my experience." "Alright, if it bothers you so much, why did you come to this God damned country? You knew you'd have to wear a uniform at some time or another?" "I didn't know what it meant. If I'm in uniform now, it's only a means to an end." "Right on! But you must know what you're doing." He paused to reflect. "Forget it. Anyway at your age, it's not healthy to think so much about death." "You sound like a Yiddish Mama." He mimics; "Don't worry so much about it, it's not healthy for you. Be happy; your Poppa and I were always happy. And now, do we think so much about death?" "I don't know what I sound like. I never had your kind of Yiddish Mama." "Whatever; when I was a kid growing up in another world, I still used to think about it." "Have you ever lost anyone really close to you?" There was an edge of impatience in Shimeon's voice. "No." "When my father died, I hardly reacted. I only worried about my mother and when she died, I cried like a baby but it's not good to let shit sentiment get the better of one." "Why not?" "Don't know but there's something petty about it. You should know that. You do have a wider vision of things." "Well forgive me for being human. I am also just a shit human being." The sun was blazing through a bracing, cool air when an open jeep appeared along the road. Alongside the driver sat a superior officer, something like a colonel and in the back was the familiar faced, ginger-haired sergeant with the breakfast rations. Usually there was a complete change of guard in all the positions but being the holy day of Yom Kippur; the disputed second most holy day in the Jewish calendar; half the camp's occupants were on leave. The reservists would eat in their positions and their watch was extended until after lunch with the promise of a twenty-four hour leave, the following day. As a pair returned, so a couple would take their leave of the camp. By such a system everyone felt responsible for everyone else. Shimeon noted from afar and with surprise, the officer accompanying the ginger in the jeep. In turn the officer recognized Shimeon. Greetings were cordial. "Well, we couldn't have asked for a nicer spot," said the visitor. "I'm surprised to see you in service again after that mess back in '67," Shimeon said with humour in his eyes. " What happened at your trial over those mines you left unguarded, down at Banias?" "Just a rap on the knuckles. It seems they still need us, old ones," retorted Danny perhaps also alluding to Shimeon. "What will be," Shimeon dared ask? "Do I know how the Israeli army works? I can tell you that they've called up many in the area; half the drivers that I know of and commandeered a lot of buses; even private cars." "You must be joking." "I'm not joking. A lot of people are complaining." "Shame. So the Syrians are playing their war-games again." "I can't answer that but there's a lot of movement on both sides and on all fronts. How's the farm? Is your son managing it while you're away?" "Does he have any option? Tell me this country isn't upside down. He should be here and I should be minding the farm. I'm too old for this kind of thing. Maybe we'll be out of here in a couple of weeks." "It doesn't depend on us. How are the horses? I'm looking for a young one." "I have one for you, all the way from Beirut. Got it via Cyprus of course." "Of course. Gone are the days when we could take our pick straight from the Beirut market place." "So near and yet so far," sighed Shimeon. The officer turned to Ariel who had begun to feel like an eavesdropper. "You look as if you're still in training?" "Yes I am." "And you're wondering what in hell you're doing here?" "Aren't we all wondering that." "Smart man. What section are you in?" "Paratroops." "Well thank your stars you're not being launched into Damascus. How many jumps have you done?" "Six. I didn't do the last jump with my company because I hurt my back. Maybe that's why I'm here." If the officer was trying to reassure Ariel with his friendly inquiry, he was not succeeding. Ariel was in a sweat. Why was the stranger spending so much time sweet talking the soldiers? "You hurt your back jumping?' "Yes. There was a strong crosswind. My officer was more cut up about it than I was. He said it had ruined his whole exercise." "Israeli humour. Who can understand it. Where is the rest of your company now?" "Some of us are reinforcing the positions all over the area. Others are kept in a group on standby near Tiberius." "You talk too much young man." He looked at Shimeon significantly and said; "whatever happens, I hope we can do business about the horse." "Yes, some things should never change so whenever it suits you and the defence forces, come on by." "It doesn't depend on our defence forces.It depends on everyone else's defense forces" Ariel felt like saying; "you talk too much old man," but no one was paying him heed. "I remember the first horses your father bought when he came to Rosh Pina." "So do I. May they keep coming from Beirut. "And may they keep breeding good stock there." This had begun to sound like some kind of code to Ariel's ears but the officer was now saying; " Bring them their well deserved breakfast, Ginger." The meeting was now over and they left. Over breakfast, Shimeon suggested to Ariel that he apply for another posting when he returned from leave, that is if he got leave that day, or the next. "Right so let's just weigh our options here or anywhere in the near future. It might be wishful thinking but I don't think I'll be up here long; this job wasn't set in my training program." "Do it anyway; bureaucracy works slowly." "Why should I?" "Damn it Ariel, can't you read the signs? We're in for a long war." "When haven't we been in a state of war? It doesn't depress me anymore." "I like your words. I thought you were in a crazy state of denial. Anyway I don't think you should be here too long or ever again." "I could almost like it here, on top of the world. It's like riding a fast horse " "No it isn't and when you ride a fast horse you must always make allowances for a fall." "Maybe I do. When I ride a fast horse, I usually break out into an allergic rash." "Where are you coming from, you crazy, funny man? Do you ride well or do you just ride?" "I love riding. I'd like to say that I was born on a horse but I've broken every limb of my body falling from them. Is that a reflection on my horsemanship?" "You can't call yourself a rider until you've tumbled seven times." "Then that makes me an expert. The smell of horses is the sweetest smell I know except perhaps the smell of a woman." "I prefer the smell of the sea. There's only one proof that you're an expert and perhaps the best proof that you're a man." "I've never doubted my manhood but tell me anyway. What is the true test ." "To ride a horse that's never been ridden before. To get on knowing that you're going to be thrown off and knowing that you'll have to mount it again." "You have an answer for everything, don't you? The first horse I ever fell off was a wild one. He had a neck as thick as my body. Nothing could hold him, not even another horse. He would never let another horse pass him. He looked like he would charge a truck on the road given half a chance. We had him gelded when he was seven. We had to." "It's not good to geld them at that age," Shimeon laughed. " Did it help?" "Either it did or my riding skills picked up; whatever the case, I never fell off him again." "Good for you. I think we are beginning to talk the same language. What about some coffee?" With a light in his eye and smacking his lips in anticipation, he drew from his pockets, several articles. First, a metal cylinder housing a solid wax fuel; then a small aluminium container, two packets, one sugar and the other of fine, almost black coffee whose aroma caught in Ariel's nostrils. Shimeon filled the coffeepot with water from his water bottle and within five minutes they were drinking a sweet, potent brew. Ariel felt he had sealed a new relationship with his partner. He used to share pilfered food from the pantry and feast away with Boss-hand Joe back in the bushveld. "To this, I owe my health," Shimeon was saying. "I always take coffee with me even when I'm riding in those mountains around Safad." Now he was scrupulously cleaning the cups, using what remained of the water in his bottle. Ariel studied him with quick friendliness. He visualised Joe squatting on his haunches back home, studying the spoor of some buck. " Strange how a bit of sentiment can change the colour of the world and I don't care what he says." As well being filled his soul a vision of Joe's daughter wafted to mind. He saw her sweet, round face, the charming bonnet she wore against the sun when she ventured out to Louis Trichardt. He recalled her solemn assurances that she would remain faithful to him when he was away on his foolhardy venture to Israel, never guessing that she was the chief reason for his quitting that wild garden of his youth. For her part, she had never admitted that she was sorry to see him go even at their sad, sweet parting. She had unwittingly indicated the way out, through the gates of Eden. Of course there never was an Eden. Ariel continued to give rein to his thoughts. "Maybe sentiments are a lie! Then let me recall the bad times; the long periods of loneliness; the confusion; the misunderstanding. Even now life seems to be a series of near misses and who is at fault?" He recalled a nightmare he'd had during the height of the turbulent, adolescent involvement with Boss Joe's daughter. A living coal had stigmatized him on his forehead, on the same spot where many proud Indian women wear a jewel. Then he had awoken in a cold sweat. Were all real relationships as soul testing as that one? Perhaps that was the only worthwhile suffering! All through their stirring affair, Joe had been a quiet witness. What had he, the father suffered from it all? Ariel suddenly caught Shimeon observing him with an indulgent, paternal air. "At last the heat is catching up with us," was all he said. Ariel peered out over the sky hazy landscape like a young goshawk still learning to fly. The Hermon wore its most temporal appearance in the sifting light but the ice, biting into her upper crevices enhanced her evasiveness. "After lunch we'll be able to get some sleep," grinned Shimeon knowing full well that he was encroaching on Ariel's thoughts. "It will be good to sleep, "Ariel agreed, biting his lip. "And tomorrow night, who knows, you might be sleeping at home. Where do you live, Ariel?" "On one of those rare dinosaurs called Kibbutz." "I don't know if they fit in very well with the rest of the world but I hear they make a good home." "I don't know if it's home yet but that's where I live." "How did you choose your kibbutz?" "By its horses," Ariel said with a mischievous smile. " Every Kibbutz has horses but ours were stolen from the Golan Heights, not far from here, after '67 and we've started breeding them for racing. Who knows we might yet make a winner. They say it's all in the genes." "There's no mystery to it. Anyway, in the end it depends of luck." "I believe in luck. I believe you can't live without it." "I'm talking of luck when it comes to breeding a winner. And you have a girl, I hope? At your age you should have many girls." "I have a girl friend, one I met in the first week that I came to Israel." Shimeon chuckled. "That didn't depend on luck, did it?" "I learned the hard way that the only way to get over one girl was to find another." "Oh, it's serious then." "Women are always a serious matter with me." That terminated the conversation for a long time. People can share something together in the unlikeliest places! Noon found them dozing when out of the pale, metallic blue, much like Ariel's glinting irises; the silence was ruffled by the whirring of helicopter blades. Over the plateau appeared three helicopters like grasshoppers. The blue, Israeli insignia was painted on their flanks. The two soldiers rose to their feet, they automatically slung their rifles over their shoulders. Shimeon rushed out onto the road waving his arms. A car park nearby served as a landing strip for the choppers. The elder man ushered them towards the landing spot. One by one they alighted onto the dark earth. Dozens of men poured out of the fat, metal plated bellies. Others were already running up from the bunkers to greet the newcomers. Many shots cracked the air. Shimeon was the first to fall, his lifeblood draining out onto the tarmac, his Uzi still hanging carelessly over his back and amazement fixed on his face. Ariel hardly had time to turn when he felt the metal cutting into him. "My God! They've got me." Mount Hermon turned up side –down before his fast fading vision. The picture of the threshing Kudu came to mind. Was he heaving like its white-ribbed furry body once did? He barely opened his eyes for he didn't want the Syrians to see his panic. He could dimly discern an Arab soldier bending over Shimeon. God! He was slitting his throat. Ariel fainted. A Syrian glanced twice into his face as he removed Ariel's wristwatch; the one Joe's daughter had given him as a parting gift. Coming to, he opened his eyes wide and caught the gleam of Hermon's snows. As with supreme effort he rose to his knees, another spate of metal hit him. It took a heavy onslaught of Israeli paratroops, in three attempts over two weeks and at the cost of another sixty lives, to regain the position. "Wow, this is too much," Breathed Ariel lounging in my favorite chair. "I'm sorry buddy," was all I could say. "It's Okay. I feel I have just had the privilege of attending my own funeral." "What can I say? We never heard from you." "You do have a wild imagination." "Maybe it's all I have," I said uncomfortably staring about my overheated living room. "It was nothing like that, of course." "I wrote this thing like I was putting down a series of dream sequences." "Don't sound so apologetic. It just was nothing like that." "Since when is reality like our dreams," I said lamely. "First of all we weren't stationed on the Hermon though she was always there for us to see and I can't imagine what better place to die than high up, closer to God." "Maybe this just isn't about you at all." "We were far below, near Kuneitra, you know the town that became a terrorist base ever since the founding of our State." "Yeah, we razed it good, didn't we?" "My platoon occupied an old, abandoned Syrian camp alongside a Wadi and from where we could see the Galilee on a clear day." "One morning we were warned that Syrian tanks, hundreds of them, were headed in our direction. We were told to clear out. I thought it was just another exercise and started to collect the equipment together. By the time I stepped out, our trucks were gone and outside the fence, waited dozens of their tanks. I don't know what they were waiting for; orders I suppose." "I'm sure they made the same mistake as in '67. Their goal was to hit Tiberius hard and they would have succeeded had they gone down. They probably had reached your deserted camp ahead of the scheduled time, so as you say, they waited." "Anyway, I was alone there. My God I was never so alone and then from a back entrance almost in the shadow of their armour one of our jeeps was driven back to fetch me. I reckon it was luck that my buddies even realized that I was not with them. I believe in luck." "I still don't know why you never made contact with us after that," I said, replenishing his glass with vodka. Ariel had a faraway look on his face. "It's like another world up there on the front. One loses track of everything."
SRINJAY CHAKRAVARTI THE FROZEN WEATHERCOCK ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Sub-zero temperatures last night. The entire village is wrapped in a white shroud. 6 AM, and the weathercock on the church steeple is frozen to death. Its sleep a slice of death, unmoved by cold winds. It stares sightlessly, into the eye of a gelid sun.
WHISPERS ON THE GLASS ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ The windowpane is misted by the breath of ghosts. Faces crowd and press on it from the outside. The moonlight makes it a mirror with two faces: but it reveals more than it reflects. The glass is spectral with hauntings of the past, forgotten faces no one can recognize . . . The words they speak opalesce on the window as the night drips luminously into the garden. There are whispers on the glass tonight, but what is left unsaid is much more frightening...
KINGDOM OF THE THUNDER DRAGON ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Thimphu, Bhutan With its head propped up on a blue cloud, the northern mountain leans against a sky marmoreal in its pallor. It drifts off into sleep, misty wisps that whisper through its thoughts as it floats on a magic carpet (of fields green and yellow spun into a checkerboard) towards strange dreamscapes beyond the horizon.
MANOR HOUSE, _FIN DE SIECLE_ ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ The garden has gone to seed, and the windows are under the weather. The green glassy pond is still as sleep, except for the bubbles which murmur dredged up dreams. The evening sun gathers the shadows of the trees in the courtyard. The only visitor who comes now and knocks on the front door is the wind. Under the silver-slivered slant of knife-edged rain, the laterite clay bleeds in runnels of red slurry. A kind of misty sadness haunts the monsoon. Spiders weave flowers of blossoming gossamer and cockroaches carom across the dusty floors. Decrepit door hinges creak and complain as they feel the draught. Bat droppings fill the gloom in the high tower with a noxious odour. Inside the hall, a portrait of a young princess with wrinkles on her face -- till you look closer and notice the craquelure.
_KALA PANI_ ~~~~~~~~~~ 'Black water' ...as a fishline sinks, the horizon sinks in the memory. -- Derek Walcott, 'Names' The sea has nibbled away at feet of clay and stone, wearing down monolithic cliffs into littoral and delta. To cross the black ocean meant losing your caste: the doctor back from Vilayat, the artisan from Fiji, the shopkeeper from Trinidad, the political prisoner from the Andamans. Kenya and Uganda, Mauritius and Maldives -- the Hindu diaspora spun its web across distant continents, but exile is a ship that returns someday. And the black water over which it sails slowly wears away the last bastions of a caste-honeycombed society. Vilayat: Hindi for Britain (Blighty) SALT LAKE CITY CALCUTTA INDIA
HEATHER FERGUSON Winter ~~~~~~ Winter arrives early. Snow falls on bare ground. Snowflakes cartwheel, tiny compasses flip and tumble through mountain air. A Chinese compass points south. I play with a snowball, toss and catch the slippery coldness. The earth spins silently on its axis. The planets move in synch with Venus. I step on a frozen puddle. Cracks radiate out. The sun passes over branches dark with melting snow. In the distance, the cone of an active volcano. Black limbs clutch at shimmering air. Time slips through a matrix with a low hiss. Steam rises from warm earth. Mirages in an early winter. An acrid taste on the tongue. Plumes of sulfuric gases rise above the jagged summit. A path circles down the crater, slippery with ash. A monochrome landscape that heralds the end of time. ...Far away in inconceivable wastelands, a black hole sits, a pinhole in a cosmic camera. Light spirals into a universe space forgot, passing the point of no return, squeezing into a realm where countless throngs of angels dance. .....
Welcome to Newsgroup alt.centipede. Established just for writers, poets, artists, and anyone who is creative. A place for anyone to participate in, to share their poems, and learn from all. A place to share *your* dreams, and philosophies. Even a chance to be published in a magazine. The original Centipede Network was created on May 16, 1993. Created because there were no other networks dedicated to such an audience, and with the help of Klaus Gerken, Centipede soon started to grow, and become active on many world-wide Bulletin Board Systems. We consider Centipede to be a Public Network; however, its a specialized network, dealing with any type of creative thinking. Therefore, that makes us something quite exotic, since most nets are very general and have various topics, not of interest to a writer--which is where Centipede steps in! No more fuss. A writer can now access, without phasing out any more conferences, since the whole net pertains to the writer's interests. This means that Centipede has all the active topics that any creative user seeks. And if we don't, then one shall be created. Feel free to drop by and take a look at newsgroup alt.centipede
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. REMEMBERY: EPYLLION IN ANAMNESIS (1996), poems by Michael R. Collings . DYNASTY (1968), Poems by Klaus J. Gerken . THE WIZARD EXPLODED SONGBOOK (1969), songs by KJ Gerken . STREETS (1971), Poems by Klaus J. Gerken . BLOODLETTING (1972) poems by Klaus J. Gerken . ACTS (1972) a novel by Klaus J. Gerken . RITES (1974), a novel by Klaus J. Gerken . FULL BLACK Q (1975), a poem by KJ Gerken . ONE NEW FLASH OF LIGHT (1976), a play by KJ Gerken . THE BLACKED-OUT MIRROR (1979), a poem by Klaus J. Gerken . JOURNEY (1981), a poem by Klaus J. Gerken . LADIES (1983), a poem by Klaus J. Gerken . FRAGMENTS OF A BRIEF ENCOUNTER (1984), poems by KJ Gerken . THE BREAKING OF DESIRE (1986), poems by KJ Gerken . FURTHER SONGS (1986), songs by KJ Gerken . POEMS OF DESTRUCTION (1988), poems by KJ Gerken . THE AFFLICTED (1991), a poem by KJ Gerken . DIAMOND DOGS (1992), poems by KJ Gerken . KILLING FIELD (1992), a poem by KJ Gerken . BARDO (1994-1995), a poem by Klaus J. Gerken . FURTHER EVIDENCES (1995-1996) Poems by Klaus J. Gerken . CALIBAN'S ESCAPE AND OTHER POEMS (1996), by Klaus J. Gerken . CALIBAN'S DREAM (1996-1997), a poem by Klaus J. Gerken . THE LAST OLD MAN (1997), a novel by Klaus J. Gerken . WILL I EVER REMEMBER YOU? (1997), poems by Klaus J. Gerken . SONGS FOR THE LEGION (1998), song-poems by Klaus J. Gerken . REALITY OR DREAM? (1998), poems by Klaus J. Gerken . APRIL VIOLATIONS (1998), poems by Klaus J. Gerken . THE VOICE OF HUNGER (1998), a poem by Klaus J. Gerken . SHACKLED TO THE STONE, by Albrecht Haushofer - translated by JR Wesdorp . MZ-DMZ (1988), ramblings by Igal Koshevoy . DARK SIDE (1991), ramblings by Igal Koshevoy . STEEL REIGNS & STILL RAINS (1993), ramblings by Igal Koshevoy . BLATANT VANITY (1993), ramblings by Igal Koshevoy . ALIENATION OF AFFECTION (1993), ramblings by Igal Koshevoy . LIVING LIFE AT FACE VALUE (1993), ramblings by Igal Koshevoy . HATRED BLURRED (1993), ramblings by Igal Koshevoy . CHOKING ON THE ASHES OF A RUNAWAY (1993), ramblings by I. Koshevoy . BORROWED FEELINGS BUYING TIME (1993), ramblings by Igal Koshevoy . HARD ACT TO SWALLOW (1994), ramblings by Igal Koshevoy . HALL OF MIRRORS (1994), ramblings by Igal Koshevoy . ARTIFICIAL BUOYANCY (1994), ramblings by Igal Koshevoy . THE POETRY OF PEDRO SENA, poems by Pedro Sena . THE FILM REVIEWS, by Pedro Sena . THE SHORT STORIES, by Pedro Sena . INCANTATIONS, by Pedro Sena . POEMS (1970), poems by Franz Zorn All books are on disk and cost $10.00 each. Checks should be made out to the respective authors and orders will be forwarded by Ygdrasil Press. YGDRASIL MAGAZINE may also be ordered from the same address: $5.00 an issue to cover disk and mailing costs, also specify computer type (IBM or Mac), as well as disk size and density. Allow 2 weeks for delivery. Note that YGDRASIL MAGAZINE is free when downloaded from Ygdrasil's World-Wide Web site at http://users.synapse.net/~kgerken.
All poems copyrighted by their respective authors. Any reproduction of these poems, without the express written permission of the authors, is prohibited. YGDRASIL: A Journal of the Poetic Arts - Copyright (c) 1993 - 2001 by Klaus J. Gerken. The official version of this magazine is available on Ygdrasil's World-Wide Web site http://users.synapse.net/~kgerken. No other version shall be deemed "authorized" unless downloaded from there. Distribution is allowed and encouraged as long as the issue is unchanged. All checks should be made out to: YGDRASIL PRESS COMMENTS * Klaus Gerken, Chief Editor - for general messages and ASCII text submissions. Use Klaus' address for commentary on Ygdrasil and its contents: firstname.lastname@example.org * Pedro Sena, Production Editor - for submissions of anything that's not plain ASCII text (ie. archives, GIFs, wordprocessored files, etc) in any standard DOS, Mac or Unix format, commentary on Ygdrasil's format, distribution, usability and access: email@example.com We'd love to hear from you! Or mailed with a self addressed stamped envelope, to: