Friday, November 16, 2012

Letters from Caliban's Winter Haitus

Dear readers,

I will speak plainly and to the point.  I have grown uncomfortable with my own writing.  Frankly I have come to dislike it, thematically and especially structurally, and to dislike even more the whole idea of a creative writing blog.  The blog should be a kind of display case -- "Look, here are the things I've made!  Come and buy."  Any cabinet-maker or sculptor or butcher, such that those breeds have not been driven into extinction, does the same thing.  What I need right now is a workshop, not a display case. 

(What a horribly maligned word, workshop.  The schools have ruined it with their "writer's workshops."  Maybe I should say I need a garage like an auto mechanic's; its apter, anyway.)

I have made some errors on this blog, not dreadful but serious and in need of serious attention.  You will permit me to say that I would prefer to work on these errors by myself.  One of my errors has been my compromising my need for privacy to write.  There have been many others, and you probably know them almost as well as I do.

I need to separate myself from this blog.  I considered deleting it, but I trust that my work will remain safer on blogspot than on my hard drive, so I'll let it be.  I am going to the Pyrenees in a few weeks and won't be back to the States until spring or summer.  Check in occasionally, but be aware that there won't be much to report that I foresee.

The old principles do not change. 
Ride, string a bow, and tell the truth.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Gold of the Mountains

Outside it was raining.

“I dreamed last night,” she said. “I dreamed of money.”

“You had a nightmare.” They were speaking English.

“Oh, no, it was – marvelous. It was a beautiful dream. I was bathing in money.”

“That doesn't sound beautiful. Money is filth.  Open the newspaper, you'll see what I mean.  I wouldn't bathe in money if the stuff cured cancer. You keep telling yourself that getting money is such a great thing and ”

“I didn't tell myself anything. I dreamed it, that's all. I dreamed that I was bathing in a shower of money.” She looked away from the mirror she was polishing. “Are you mad, Paul?”

“No. I'm peeling potatoes.”

“You sound mad. Are you mad at me?”

“I'm peeling potatoes. How could I be mad while I'm peeling potatoes?” He turned around in the shaky wooden chair. “Alright, alright. Tell me about your dream.”

“So I was standing.”

“That's good, I guess.”  He was intent on his peeling.

“I was standing, and the moon was out, and the sun was out, and on the right it was nighttime and fresh and cold and all the stars were out. And on the left side it was daytime and the sun was shining and it was warm and blue.”

“Where were you standing?”

“Right in the middle. And there was a river.”

“Was I there?” He had finished peeling and had turned the chair around to face her. One of the legs was giving out, and he shifted a little to lighten its load.

“Where? In the river? No, silly, you weren't there.”

“Hang on a second, the water's boiling.” He stood up and carried the bowl of potatoes to the range. With a knife he skewered them one by one, almost to the handle, because it was not a very big knife, and pushed them off the blade into the water. Then he scraped the peelings into the bin, along with the damp newspaper he had spread out over the table to absorb the juice. The girl in the meantime had finished polishing the mirror and began straightening out the bed. When it was finished she sat down on the foot, and the bed being across from the kitchen door she watched him bending over the bin, swearing in Georgian, with his short legs and his dark hair.

When he finished he gave the potatoes a quick look and sat down at the table. His glass from yesterday was sitting there, a lowball, and a jug of no-name California red next to it. He picked it up by the neck, very carefully, and let a little stream out of the mouth, so slowly that it didn't bubble or make a purple foam in the glass.

“So,” he said, “there was a river. Do you want some wine?”

“The river was underneath me. So on the right it was nighttime, and on the left it was daytime, and below me there was this river. Exactly below me, and it was flowing backward.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean away from me. The water was coming toward me and then under me and then passed me behind.”

“Oh. What was above you?”

“Well, so I looked up, and there was this cloud, a storm cloud, but not black. It was silver, and gold. And it started raining coins on me. You know, quarters and pennies.”

“It must have hurt.”

“Oh, no, not at all. It was marvelous. It was like a warm shower. And all these coins – they were piling up around me, and on me, and in my hair. I sat down and they kept pouring down. I was catching them in my hands and scooping them off the ground and they went down my shirt and into my shoes, and when I looked up it was so beautiful, Paul, because all I could see was the cloud and the coins like rain. Have you ever done that?”

“No,” he said, “I can say pretty certainly that I've never been rained on by money.”

“I mean have you ever looked upward while it was raining.”

He considered the question and took a sip of wine. Then he stood up with his glass in one hand and the chair in the other and stepped through the door. He set the glass down in front of the mirror and the chair next to the bed, backward, and sat down so that his belly was against the chair back. Then he thought better of it and sat down on the bed, glass in hand, next to the girl.

“I think I have,” he said finally. “I think – yes. Actually, I have looked up when it was raining. It's not what you expect. I mean it's not what you expect to see.”

She had waited patiently to continue. “So you know what I saw when I looked up. But then guess what happened.”

“More money came down.”

“Yes, but paper money. Hundreds and fifties. The coins stopped and hundreds and fifties started falling. But they were falling slowly, because they're paper. It was like snow.”

“You've never seen the snow.”

“On TV I have.”

“That's not the same. It's different in real life. It's nasty, actually, it gets all black and dirty, and you slip and you can't drive on it. Do you remember when we lived in Moscow, or were you too young?”

“No, I don't remember. But it doesn't matter, because this was like perfect snow, like the snow you see in the movies, but it wasn't snow because it was money.”

“Actually,” said Paul, “when it snowed at home it was nice. It didn't get black. Or maybe it did, I don't know, I was a little kid. You were just born.”

“And it fell and fell,” she continued, “like the coins, except more, and longer, and it was all clean and crisp like when you get it from the bank and it hasn't gotten all wrinkled yet. It started piling up, and it covered all the coins even, but you could feel the coins underneath, and they were warmer than the paper money. It was like warm soil under warm snow.”

“Thousands and thousands of dollars. Tens of thousands,” he said, “maybe millions.”

“And I started rolling around because it felt so good, and I tried to make a snow angel but there was too much and it kept on falling, and my clothes were full of money, and when I stood up I fell over because I was so heavy, but it even felt good to fall. And then I looked down and I couldn't see the river anymore.”

“The river? You mean”

“Right, the river from in the beginning. There was just money on the ground all around me, big piles, and I was laying down on my back all heavy with money and my hair and my feet were covered.”

“Was it still night and day at the same time?”

“Oh, yes, dark on the right and bright on the left. That didn't change.”

She stopped and drew her feet up onto the bed, and sat on them. Paul lay the glass on the floor and sat cross legged against a pillow, facing her.

“And then what happened?”

“Nothing,” she said, “I was just laying in the money and it was beautiful. The end.”

“The end?”

“Yes. The end.”

He looked away. “Well, it sounds lovely.” Then after a moment he spoke again. “You know I had a dream last night too.”

She turned to look at him. “Really?”

“Do you remember Grandfather Michael, who lived in Mestia?”

“No. Was he the one who has a cigar in all the pictures?”

“That's him. When I was little they would send me to go stay with him on school breaks. He had this little house in the middle of nowhere near Mestia and he would take me up to the mountains. Well, I dreamed about those mountains. First I saw this mountain that was like a tower with two peaks, very sharp peaks, and there were fir trees around it. All gray, very very tall, and the forest underneath it. Other mountains around it. And then the mountain, the big one, was Grandfather Michael.”

She smiled. “It was a mountain and it was Grandfather Michael?”

“I wish I could explain it to you. It was a mountain. I mean, it looked like a mountain. But it was also him. You could almost see him, his face, in, I don't know, the cracks and all. It's hard to explain.” He swore softly and whistled. “I don't know. I couldn't tell you if it was a real mountain that I remembered from being a kid or if I just made it up. If it's real it doesn't look like that anymore. They're all ski resorts and stuff like that. Big money from Russia and Tblisi, vacation villas and resorts and all that.”

“But not in the dream.”

“No, no. Good God, no, just mountain. Just rock and trees. And Grandfather Michael, kind of.” He stared back toward the kitchen. “But what a mountain. So tall.”

They sat still for a while, and then she got up to check on the potatoes and make dinner, and Paul picked up the day's paper from where he left it, on the floor by the front door beneath their jackets, and carried it into the kitchen to read at the table.

“Do we have any fish in the cupboard?” he asked.

“No, I was planning on making eggs. Do you not want eggs? I can run to the store”

“No, no, eggs are fine. Eggs are fine.” He turned to the international section and started reading aloud to himself. At dinner they sat elbow to elbow. The smell of frying had penetrated the walls and the linoleum.

“That Russian from the City,” said Paul, “are you still seeing him?”


“Him,” he said. “Mr. Cufflinks. Does he still call you?”

“No. Not for two weeks.”

“Good. I know his type, I knew when I saw him. Actually I knew when you first told me about him.” He said something in Georgian that made her look down sharply toward her plate. They kept eating, slowly, because there wasn't much left in the pan, and when they finished they refilled their glasses, hers fuller than his.

“Were the eggs good?”

“They're always good.” The paper was open on his lap again, wrinkled and a little damp from sitting under the dripping rain jackets, so that the ink smeared a little on the front page. He squinted in annoyance. “Speaking of bathing in money,” he said, more to himself than her. “Good God.”

After dinner she washed the plates by hand and he dried them. He opened the cupboard, but then closed it. “I'm tired,” he said, “I think I'll do this tomorrow.”

“So am I,” she said, “don't worry about it.”

They both undressed without much ceremony, taking turns in the bathroom, and they went to bed, one on the left side, the other on the right side, and Paul kept the lamp on while she wiggled down into the warmth of the sheets. After a while he turned his head toward her.

“Does the light bother you?”

“Mm. No.”

“Hey, Martha. Are you awake?”


“That mountain I dreamed about. Grandfather Michael used to call it Gold Mountain. How do you like that?”


“Gold. The Gold Mountain. I don't know what its real name is, but it was a real place. Gold Mountain. Huh.”

She rolled a little and sighed in her sleep. Paul stared at the ceiling.

“The Gold Mountain. How do you like that.”

He reached for the drawstring of the lamp. It was an old lamp, second hand, and had once been purple but now was a dull reddish brown. “Like old blood,” he thought, “the color of old dry blood. And the gold, golden mountain. Gold, gold, golden gold.” And he, too, drifted into sleep.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Sketches from the Campagna: Nino and the Bicycle

When the crisis hit, and no one had any money at all, the roads that lead into Nicosia became full of bicycles. People who worked started cycling to work and people without jobs cycled to wherever they spent their day. Far fewer cars made the rounds on account of the price of petrol.

This pleased Giovanni Catalano, called Nino, who had previously driven to his job in Nicosia and had always wanted to cycle. He hated the heavy, sterile frame of his car. He hated having to roll down a window (it was fairly old, the car) to feel the wind. Every day since the bicycles started to appear he would stare in envy at the people leaning over their handlebars in the full flush of the good clean air, up the hills and down the hills, who could smell the orange blossoms as they passed the orchards. He hated having to find a few meters of empty space in the crowded street when others could simply lock their bicycle to a streetsign or shoulder it into work. When he filled the tank he would swear viciously. “All you do is suck life. A bloody stramaladetto vampire. It's not enough that you suck my wallet dry. You have to leave my bloodless in this miserable box. You rusty old carcass.”

Nino envied the commuter cyclists and admired them. He had seen a TV documentary on Denmark, where it seemed that everyone rode a bicycle everywhere, even politicians and famous people, and he burned up inside. Apparently Holland was the same way. And so was Nicosia once, he reflected, because his grandfather had ridden a bicycle to work for as long as he worked, and even his father – Nino's father – had commuted by bicycle as a young man, before his first car.

He brought this up at the table one night. His mother nearly dropped the pot she was holding.


He told her again.

“What's gotten into you? You want to give up the car?”

His father chewed the tip of his knife, slowly. “I used to ride my cycle to work, before I got a car.”

“Before you could afford a car.” --His wife.

“Right, before I could afford one. It wasn't so bad. The old one-speed. And anyway with fuel prices being what they are.”

“The price is not the point. The point is that a man of almost thirty years doesn't ride a bicycle when he could drive. He simply doesn't. One doesn't do that. Nino, you are going to drive and you are going to forget this bicycle business immediately.”

The father placed the knife delicately back next to his plate. “My old bike,” he said calmly, “is in the garage under a tarpaulin. The tires'll be flat. But that's where you'll find it.

The next day Nino stuck the old singlespeed into the back of his Fiat and, having managed to get out of work early, shouldered it and walked a few blocks to a cycle shop. He waited in line a good quarter hour before he got to the counter.

“Fix it up so you can commute?” asked the mechanic, a bored-looking boy with long hair and a rakish beard. “Right. Give me your number, we'll call you.”

And by the following Monday Nino had a well-oiled, properly pumped bicycle. He left the house early, much earlier than before. He took the same road that he had taken to work for years to school for years before that, past an orange grove, intersecting the highway, over the hill into town; but it was like a new road, a new country, and he felt himself an explorer in uncharted territory. A new old country. A new old world.

He learned. He learned that the stretches he'd always thought were flat were actually on an incline. He learned what gravel felt like under the tires and how easy it was to slide clear off the road, and how the air dries as the sun rises, which he knew but didn't remember ever feeling. As he travelled day by day he began to recognize the rabbits on the roadside and the doves in the cypresses, and they were no longer little flashes of color but real animals. He had found a new country in old Nicosia town and its outskirts.

What new disdain he now felt for his old car, his great rusting life-sucker! When his coworkers complained about petrol prices his smiled. On the road he wondered what a gearshift must be like, to slide easily in and out of the fast-spinning little gear and back into the great slow heaving first, to control the flow as he willed, to make music from the rhythm of the clacking, whispering chain. He whistled at the doves. The rabbits sat on the roadside and and waved. Spring came; flowers opened up for Nino on his ride.

On a Thursday night he sat on the bed of his friend, the girl who worked mornings at the Bar Belfiore, and talked about the bike as he pulled on his shoes.

“I like it,” she was telling him. “Take me some time. Your rabbits sound adorable.”

He stood up to fasten his belt. “I will.”

“I don't know anyone he rides a bike. There's a young guy who comes in for a cappuccino all sweaty and flushed every morning early but I don't know if he rides his bike or a scooter or what. Does that happen to you?”


“I mean does it wear you out. Do you show up to work all sweaty?”

“A little.”

“It doesn't seem to wear you out too much. Not in a bad way, anyway.”

“No, it gives you energy.”

“I can tell.”

“I'm serious, though,” said Nino, “you live when you're on a bike. You breathe. You move... I don't know how to explain it.” She smiled and kissed him.

The next morning was a Friday, and the sky was clear and and Nino saw magpies busy with their nest building. The bees were singing in choirs, and the sky arced wonderfully and the cypresses smelled wonderful and everything lost its dimensions and became like a painted image, all on the same plane and glowing. A little bit faster he pedaled, and a little bit faster; he was the wind that blew the pollen now, the warm spring wind that stirred the grass. His thighs burned with the speed and the hill and sang out to each other in turns, call, response, right, left as he topped the hill, left, right, right, right. Down the hill he sped, blind in the wind. He never saw the truck, and when it caught him broadside he flew forward in an arc, headfirst with his body whipping behind him like a tail. Up, up, up and then down, down, down; and when he smashed into the asphalt it was like he had been swallowed by the curving side of the Earth, and the bits of his body here and there on the road were the only proof that he hadn't.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

San Giorgio - Monferrato

Colli, vigne, orti e campi:
un registro di timbri dolci
e luce bionda, e foschia
leggera e garbata.
Ametista ed oro dei colli e campi,
chiarezza chiodata dai pini solitari.

Ma sotto quel suolo che tiene le vigne
c'è roccia, roccia
né ametista né oro, plutone
roccia cieca, che sa l'antico canto
dei falchi che gridano lassù.

O San Giorgio!

          Tu vedi il dorso delle Alpi
          l'orrore del sasso sorgente
          come carne solida, vivente, sì
          le Alpi le vedi, San Giorgio
          potenti e sfrenati, sì tanto
          la coda scagliosa del tuo drago

Friday, October 19, 2012

Si torna

E la vita eccheggia nell'arco dei secoli
di vita in vita.
Ecco: stamattina ho raccoltato il grano
davanti allo specchio.
Cadeva il grano, fino e dorato; ed al campo è rimasta
l'ombra della stoppia, comprendomi il mento
e le guance.

E la memoria eccheggia nell'arco di tempo
di occhio in occhio.
Vedi: ho aperto un libro
e là fra i fogli i disegni d'inchiostro
si son riformati.
E vedevo il carro, il gran cacciatore
le sette sorelle ed il fiume ed il cane
e gli altri sillabi della lingua
del cielo.

E la vita corre nel torrente di sogno
di cuore in cuore.
Penna in mano comincio la vendemmia.

Ecco finalmente il mosto.
Guarda quant'è scuro
e che profumo fa.

Incantesimo di Merseburg: Sassonia, anno 900 d.C.

Fol ed Wodan passavan pel bosco
e la caviglia del cavallo                 di Balder fu storta.

Ed allor lanciò l'incantesimo              Sinthgut sorella di Sunna
ed allor lanciò l'incantesimo               Frija sorella di Wolla
e lanciò l'incantesimo Wodan            al meglio possibile.

Quanto rotta l'ossa               tanto rotto il sangue
                       e tanto rotta la storta.

Ossa all'ossa
Sangue al sangue
Nodi ai nodi

                      come fosser legati.
(per un cavallo ferito)

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The White Bull

A white bull, a king of the field.
Magnificent. Who else could match you?
The chest scraping the clover
the massive haunches and the shimmering flanks
the powerful roll of the shoulders
the ripple of throatflesh
and the circumspect twitch of the tail.
Whose bone was it that splintered your crown?
How many calves now grazing in your field
came to the sunlight from your dreadful loins?

One comes to the kingdom to meet the king.
One comes to the pasture to meet the bull.
Life straddles horsebacks and drips from horns
And I to see life with my own eyes
and breathe it with my own lungs
have come to you, to the field of dung
and dandelions
at least to sit upon a splintered post
and watch you graze
swallowing green life to produce white--


if not to feed you clover with my hand
and feel the stormcloud of your breath against my skin
then to have your hide, tight drawn like a bowstring
stretched and nailed, embracing the house wall;
and your bullslaying rack
I would paint red
and fix to the lintel
to catch the hearthglow in the night
and blaze by day when the door is open
crowning the field of blue with red.