Exile as Bearing Witness by Bronislava Volková

This text is an excerpt from Forms of Exile in Jewish Literature and Thought Twentieth-Century Central Europe and Movement to America by Professor Bronislava Volková, Indiana University, Bloomington. The book is published by Academic Studies Press in 2021 (www.academicstudiespress.com).

While Weiss’s play (The Investigation, 1965) is written as a mixture of documentary and fiction and is clearly a major avant-garde literary achievement portraying a loss of humanity and the absence of conscience in the face of it, there are a number of intimate documentary accounts of the horrors of the Holocaust by survivors. To name a few: the Italian fighter for humanism Primo Levi; the tireless Galician Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal; the German-language Romanian poet Paul Celan; and the Hungarian Nobel Laureate Imre Kertész. They all belong to the genre of Holocaust literature, which portrays a form of exile as bearing witness in the most general sense of the word—yet each brings their own special emphasis and insight. Each portrayal of the Holocaust is individual. There are as many Holocausts as there are people.

In order to bear witness, one must consciously remove oneself from being an actor or victim in life, to step aside, so to speak, in the interest of an objective portrayal of what happened. Wiesel, Levi, and Wiesenthal, whom we shall devote the next studies to, are not writers whose main ambition is to bring a new form of literary achievement into the world; rather, they are autobiographical, documentary writers, whose main goal it is to share with the world their shattering experiences and interpretations. They are writers on a personal mission. They are the authors of a number of works on the topic, yet we shall focus only on selected ones.

The most well known of these works is Elie Wiesel’s (b. 1928, Sighet, Romania, d. 2016 in New York City) famous memoir Night. The French original was published in 1958, after the first printing of the novel appeared in Yiddish in Buenos Aires under the title Un di velt hot geshvign (And the World Remained Silent, 1954). The English translation, which followed four years later in the US, sold eventually ten million copies and was translated into thirty languages.

Wiesel was born in Romanian Transylvania and received a Nobel Peace Prize in 1986. He also received many other prestigious prizes and honorary doctorates. He spent the latter part of his life (from 1955 onwards) in New York and Boston as a professor at the City University of New York and at the Boston University. He was a prolific political activist and a founder of the New York Human Rights Foundation. He is a foremost example of a major European literary and intellectual figure moving to the US and later on becoming obliterated by the Communist regimes in Eastern Europe, whose countries moved from one harsh persecution and oppression to another, even more long lasting. Authors are often required to leave their mother tongue behind and adopt a new language. Jewish writers are the most frequent examples of this, as they are often the ones who have the courage to leave their country and start a new life in a totally different environment. There, they are able to truly and fully express their talent and ideas and bring a new perspective to the world with an authenticity often lacking in national, narrowly conceived literatures.

Wiesel was the author of fifty-seven books, among which his memoir Night, describing his experiences as a prisoner in Auschwitz and Buchenwald, takes a special place. His family spoke Yiddish, but also German, Hungarian, and Romanian. Two of his sisters survived the war and were reunited with Wiesel at a French orphanage. His parents and younger sister perished. Wiesel’s father was, according to Wiesel, beaten to death in front of his own eyes by a Nazi for suffering from dysentery, starvation, and exhaustion just a few months before the liberation of Buchenwald, where he and his son had ended up after a death march. After the war, Wiesel became a journalist and wrote for Israeli and French newspapers.

Night was originally turned down by fifteen publishers, even though it was proposed to them by the great French Catholic writer and journalist François Mauriac, a Nobel Prize winner for literature, before the small firm Hill and Wang finally accepted it. Night is a case study in how a book can create a genre, how a writer becomes an icon, and how the Holocaust was absorbed into the American experience. Night was one of the first books to raise the question: “Where was God in Auschwitz?” This question does not, however, receive a satisfactory answer. Some critics of Wiesel’s work feel that he even failed on this issue, in order to appeal to the largely Christian world around him and under the influence of his catholic helper François Mauriac. They argue that he sublimated his rage at the perpetrators, and thus at God, for allowing such bestialities to be committed. By casting himself as a suffering, but not raging, victim, he was able to be less offensive to his readers.1

A similar reading emerges from Naomi Seidman’s comparison of the original Yiddish, Buenos Aires version of Night and the French one that found such fame: “What remains outside this proliferating discourse on the un-sayable is not what cannot be spoken but what cannot be spoken in French. And this is not the ‘silence of the dead’ but rather the scandal of the living, the scandal of Jewish rage and unwillingness to embody suffering and victimization.”2 According to Seidman, in order to reach larger audiences, Wiesel sacrificed the anger of the Yiddish boy and became the personification of suffering silence acceptable to the Christian world.

Auschwitz has become more than just a place: it has become a shorthand for the Shoah, a common metaphor for uncommon evil, the almost platitudinous sign for hell on earth. Night is exquisitely constructed. Every sentence feels weighted and deliberate, every episode carefully chosen and delineated. It is also shockingly brief; a story as fundamentally brutal as this one would become grotesque if cluttered by embellishments. It is also devoid of rational explanations or cynicism. It reads as the innocent narration of a young boy, who had no idea of what was coming. It compels the reader to become a witness to the unthinkable and absorb it inwardly.

Night is not a novel and it is not exactly a memoir either. It has a hybrid form, which balances fidelity to events and literariness. The facts depicted are stranger than fiction. The English title itself was changed from the original Yiddish in order to capture the darkness of the camp as well as the spiritual darkness of the world during and after WWII. The original version of the book was more than 800 pages, while the French publication was only 121 pages. Wiesel took out all the parts where he expressed his feelings about the Holocaust in the face of its denial, as well as any moralizing. Wiesel’s memoir is a genuine artistic achievement and as such it is naturally not a simply a literal description of facts, but is also austerely poetic. It simplifies the story into a kind of parable. It succeeds in individualizing the existential, depersonalized experience of the Holocaust, which made it possible for so many readers to start empathizing. In this way it is like The Diary of Anne Frank,3 which is easier to relate to, as it is the diary of a young girl in a chamber awaiting hell and thus does not force the reader to face the absolute horror of what succeeded.

The power of Night comes from the dramatic contrast between the thoughts and fears of the victims and their apathy in response. It offers not only a litany of the daily terrors, everyday perversions, and rampant sadism at Auschwitz and Buchenwald, but also an eloquent personal and philosophical treatise about what the Holocaust was, what it meant, and what its legacy is and will be. It is interesting to note that the book omits to tell us about Wiesel’s sisters and mother or what happened in the immediate aftermath of the liberation.

The book clearly invites many questions. In the first place, whether the Enlightenment came to an end with the Shoah. Was it the result of totalitarianism or mass society, where the individual has become depersonalized, colonized, and alienated by huge forces that escape our understanding and control? Could anything have been done to prevent the genocide? Did the perpetrators have options or were they forced to simply follow orders? Similar questions were asked at the end of the Communist era and are still debated today. Is there personal responsibility? What is its extent? Is the victim to be blamed? Could the Jews foresee what was coming and could they have prevented it by an escape? Whom are we obliged to help? It has been proved that indifference is complicity, yet there are genocides happening all over the world today and we remain largely indifferent to them as long as they do not touch us personally.

The US often positions itself as the protector of law and security around the world, but it has no consistent policy or ability to prevent the horrors of lawlessness. Genocide and war crimes are clearly defined nowadays, but we fail to respond in effective ways. I feel that we must study what produces the authoritarian personality and what produces prejudice. We have known for a long time that prejudice against Jews is based predominantly on Jews being presented as God killers, as Zionist conspirators who want to take over the world (as purported in the fake document The Protocols of the Elders of Zion), as contaminators of pure Aryan blood, as the chosen nation, and so forth. Yet, Jews are not the only ones currently being subjected to extermination.

The mechanization of the complete destruction of an entire race organized and carried out by a state, shows how reason is something that can be abused in a vile way. It can be twisted and then used to defend bestiality. The Soviet gulags and the Nazi camps had many similarities.

According to Primo Levi, the death rate in the gulags was about thirty percent, while in the Nazi camps it was ninety to ninety-eight percent. The aim of the death camps was pure annihilation of a certain race, not only of individuals opposing a certain ideology or state form. So there is both a great similarity as well as difference between the two systems. Writers bearing personal witness have had a great impact helping people attempt to understand something that is almost unimaginable.

Elie Wiesel created a purpose for his life as a survivor:

My universe is the universe of the survivor. Writing is a duty for me as a survivor. I entered literature through silence; I seek the role of witness, and I am duty bound to justify each moment of my life as a survivor. Not to transmit my experience is to betray that experience. Words can never express the inexpressible; language is finally inadequate, but we do know of the beauty of literature. We must give truth a name, force man to look. The fear that man will forget, that I will forget, that is my obsession. Literature is the presence of the absence. Since I live, I must be faithful to the memory. Though I want to celebrate the sun, to sing of love, I must be the emissary of the dead, even though the role is painful.4

Bearing witness prevents mankind from forgetting and this must not be left undone, according to Elie Wiesel.

Marie Cedars writes that “silence is the language of Wiesel’s first book, Night, as it documents the camp experience that killed his faith ‘forever.’” Such is the claim in her article from 1986. She continues: “Its neutral tone is the language of the witness. Silence as a mood, silence as a mysterious presence, remains in Wiesel’s books, even while he moves from despair to affirmation of literature and life and as he continues to probe the unanswered questions of human cruelty and God’s silence.”5

Peter Manseau recapitulates the differences between the Wiesel’s original Yiddish book, written immediately at the end of the Holocaust, and the translation of Night presented to the world more than a decade later. He believes that rather than suppress the Jewish rage (as claimed by Seidman), Wiesel imposes “a theological frame on the story.”6 He goes on: “Wiesel has created a mouthpiece for his theology. It is a unique Holocaust theology, a theology of questions without answers: one that equates knowledge of the depths of man’s depravity with knowledge of the heights of man’s wisdom.” Thus, the main message of the book is shifted from man’s depravity to God’s silence interpreted as wisdom. Manseau believes that this is shortchanging the meaning that can be found in the excruciating experience: “If we continue to speak of atrocity in religious terms we will never take full responsibility for it. And so we will never learn. And so it will continue to be denied. And so it will happen again.”7

Another way in which the pain of what happened has been circumvented is by predominantly focusing on children as survivors or witnesses of the Holocaust. Mark Anderson proposes that this “allowed for mainstream, Christian identification with the Jewish victims, thus facilitating a crucial breakthrough in public recognition of the Jewish tragedy. But it also depoliticized and sacralized the Holocaust, filed off the rough edges of the Jewish protagonists, and sought reconciliation rather than confrontation with the gentile world that had assisted Hitler’s genocidal plan by remaining silent.”8

The question remains as to whether Wiesel’s masterpiece can continue to have an effect on future generations, those who will be far removed from the historical environment described by him.

Notes: 1 See Ron Rosenbaum,” “Elie Wiesel’s Secret,” Tablet, September 28, 2018, https://www.tabletmag.com/sections/arts-letters/articles/elie-wiesels-secret. 2 Naomi Seidman, “Elie Wiesel and the Scandal of Jewish Rage,” Jewish Social Studies 3, no. 1 (Autumn 1996): 8. 3 First published in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, in Dutch in 1947, the English translation—Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, trans. Valentine Mitchell (New York: Doubleday & Company, 1952) received widespread critical and popular attention. It was translated into sixty languages. 4 Heidi Ann Walker, and Elie Wiesel, “Why and How I Write: An Interview with Elie Wiesel,” Journal of Education 162, no. 2 (Spring 1980): 58. 5 Marie M. Cedars, review of Against Silence: The Voice and Vision of Elie Wiesel, by Irwing Abrahamson, Cross Currents 36, no. 3 (Fall 1986): 258-9. 6 Peter Manseau, “Revising Night: Elie Wiesel and the Hazards of Holocaust Theology,” Cross Currents 56, no. 3 (Fall 2006): 396. 7 Ibid.: 399. 8 Mark M. Anderson, “The Child Victim as Witness to the Holocaust: An American Story?,” Jewish Social Studies 14, no. 1 (Fall 2007), pp. 1–22.

About the Author

Bronislava Volková is a bilingual poet, semiotician, translator, collagist, essayist and Professor Emerita of Indiana University, Bloomington, USA, where she was a Director of the Czech Program at the Slavic Department for thirty years. She is a member of Czech and American PEN Club. She went into exile in 1974, taught at the Universities of Cologne and Marburg and subsequently at Harvard and University of Virginia in Charlottesville. She has published eleven books of existential and metaphysical poetry in Czech and seven bilingual editions illustrated with her own collages. She is also the author of two books on linguistic and literary semiotics (Emotive Signs in Language, John Benjamins, Amsterdam, 1987 and A Feminist’s Semiotic Odyssey through Czech Literature, Edwin Mellen Press, N.Y., 1997), as well as the leading co-author of a large anthology of Czech poetry translations Up The Devil’s Back: A Bilingual Anthology of 20th Century Czech Poetry (with Clarice Cloutier), Slavica Publishers, 2008. Her scholarly publications include topics of Czech poetry, Czech popular culture, issues of exile, gender, implied author values and emotive signs. Her poetry has been translated into twelve languages and her selected poems appeared in book form in six of them. She has also received a number of international literary and cultural awards. Currently, she is publishing abook Forms of Exile in Jewish Literature and Thought (Twentieth-Century Central Europe and Migration to America).

More at www.bronislavavolkova.com

Siren Song by Leanne Moden

The clamouring of rooks among the trees
reminds me of the sirens on the shore,
whose raucous songs were blatant augury,

of omens too pernicious to ignore.
The scream of sirens on the motorway
remind me of the sirens on the shore:

a devastating ending to the day.
Those birds will seek the car-crash carrion.
The scream of sirens on the motorway – 
a call as bright and clear as clarion –
inviting us to seek our own demise.
Those birds will seek the car-crash carrion:

like Erysichthon, nothing satisfies
the calling void. Obsession quantified,
inviting us to seek our own demise.

The war inside my head is amplified;
the clamouring of rooks among the trees.
The calling void, obsession quantified,
whose raucous songs are blatant augury

About the Author

Leanne Moden is a Nottingham-based poet. She’s performed at events across the UK and Europe, including WOMAD Festival, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Sofar Sounds, and Bestival. Leanne’s latest collection, ‘Get Over Yourself’ was published in July 2020 by Burning Eye Books, and she’s currently working on her debut theatre show. You can find out more about her work on her website: http://www.leannemoden.com 

Bullet by Lina Carr

When the police call, you know it failed. You were the one to call, the one to cry, to scream, beg them to come. You’ve rehearsed the shock in the tone of your voice, exercised face muscles to sculpt a perfect panic expression. She told you the words you should use, what not to say; she told you what the police would be asking about. Instead, the detective tells you to rush. 

Fingers curled around the steering wheel tremble when you navigate through the evening streets of New York. You should be rushing but you drive slow. Tonight you’re grateful for jammed intersections, streets packed with pedestrians, red traffic lights. They impose on you the time you need to think and you’ll use them as an excuse that it took you so long. Tonight, they work in your favour. 

With every mile, the closer you are, drops of sweat multiply on your temples, chest, staining your shirt; your throat dries although you don’t speak. You try to breathe slowly to lower your pounding pulse but the air chokes you as you imagine possible scenarios. You don’t know what to think, except that somebody must have noticed, or heard him. The last inch of his shadow, the echo of the gunshot.

As you approach your neighbourhood, you see your lawn sealed with tape; red flashes hit the evening from the top of the police cars. There are people standing on the road in flipflops and nightwear. They hug each other and point at the broken windows. Your next door neighbour shakes in front of the policeman taking notes, and as you pass, you hear people whispering to one other.

I heard shrieks… I thought it was a fox or dogs fighting…  She thought it was somebody screaming but then she heard sirens… They stand on their tiptoes peeping at the glass shattered in the driveway.  It’s a quiet neighbourhood, people will be terrified from now on. They won’t let their children play ball after dark, they will close their windows at night, buy guard dogs, move out. You feel responsible. 

*

Earlier in the morning, you got everything ready, and as she stressed to you, made sure everything looked ordinary. You packed your briefcase for work, ironed your shirt, made sure the windows were closed, and the back door was locked. Waiting for the water to boil, you looked at the awards hung on the walls of living room from her time in the force. The medals, certificates of her achievements, special recognitions. And then at the photographs from your holidays in Italy, the hiking trips, marathons, mountain climbing, and the last one you took of her, holding a gold badge on her promotion ceremony, two weeks before the accident.

You then brewed black coffee and made her hot porridge and sat on the edge of her bed helping her swallow, wiping smeared oats from the corner of her lips.

‘It’s today’ she said.

You wanted to tell her about the new nerve cell regeneration programme and the renowned neurosurgeon in Germany, but she interrupted you.

 ‘Don’t, no more.’

So instead, you stroked her forehead, cheeks, moved your fingers back and forth across her lips, the parts that could still feel, and looked at her immobile limbs, her fingertips that couldn’t touch your skin, her muscles that haven’t voluntarily contracted for the last seven years, and watched how, across her face, sun beams glimmered, brushing her skin with warm yellows and violets. 

*

Before you drove off to work, you sat in the car staring at the key ring, a souvenir from your honeymoon in Sicily, and recalled far back, when you had first seen her muscular hands, dark-flamed long hair, slim waistline in tight leather trousers, and how she had pulled you towards her to kiss, later telling you that everyone in the task force called her ‘bullet’. You remember how later that night, with the tip of your finger, you copied her tattoo, a black inked handgun, from her shoulder blade to her chest, breast and thighs. Then a memory crept upon you, that is always unwelcome, the night she was shot, her spinal cord broken. To shut it out, you started the engine. 

*

At work, you did your best to act normal, you spoke with the clients, asked for your coffee, but forcing the routine only escalates the speed of the dreaded thoughts grinding your head. They sneaked through like slithering cobras, between sips, biscuits bites, reciprocated smiles. While in the meeting with the CEO’s, as you discussed and passed new company laws, you stared at your watch, watched the seconds pass, the thin hand that moved from point to point, precisely and quick, like a gunshot. You imagine the blood spatter, shattered bones, her debris, and try to convince yourself to believe in her words: that it is salvation. You recalled the day when you had finally agreed; the day she had chocked on her food and couldn’t breath. That evening she asked again, and you said yes. But it wouldn’t be you—you just couldn’t, didn’t know how. 

*

There are policemen standing on the lawn, guarding the front door to your house. They lift the tape above your head when they hear you are the husband, the detective guides you through the driveway. The shattered glass crunches under your feet as you walk up the staircase. Inside, people covered in white plastic suits bend over carpet and hide what you can’t see in plastic bags.

You look to the end of the hallway, at the half-opened bedroom door, and see the wall above the bed spattered with blood, and crimson drag marks swivelling along the floor. You gasp, stop for a second, but there is a sudden pressure on your left shoulder, the detective pushes you forward inside the living room and points at the sofa. 

‘We received a phone call from one of your neighbours who noticed an intruder sneaking into the house,’ he says.  ‘I’m very sorry but your wife was injured.’ 

You half-open your mouth, pant. 

‘We can’t say yet what happened here, the team is sweeping the house. It might have been a burglary, but nothing seems to be taken.’ He points at the TV screen and the laptop.

‘Do you know anybody who would want to hurt your wife?’

Your heart races, heat spreads through your cheeks, reddens your face. You grab your hair, stare in his eyes.

‘I can’t think of anyone, everything was locked before I left for work, made sure she was safe.’ You swallow to get your shaking voice under control, block physiological signs of nerves. ‘What happened to her?’

‘An ambulance took her to the hospital with gunshot wounds just before you arrived,’ he sighs. ‘I’m truly sorry. I knew your wife from before, when she was a DI. Before her accident, she was the best shooter in the force.’ He squeezes your shoulder.  ‘My colleague can drive you.’

*

In the waiting room, you sit for hours, moving from one chair to another, staring at white walls, smelling bleach-cleaned corridors. Overhead lamps blind your eyes with neon. You follow the hands of the clock fixed on the opposite wall, watch the seconds pass, the arrows move, somehow slowly, and jump up for any sight of a person coming out the operating theatre. For a moment, you wish you had faith, belief in God, and wonder where the chapel is, the golden altar in front of which you could kneel and clear yourself of all the sins. Hope the strength of your prayer would influence the precision of the surgeon’s blade, so she could be saved. 

You picture yourself crouching in front of the figure, his hands stretched to the ceiling and dripping blood painted on his chest, to beg for his forgiveness for your recent actions and words. The intricate plan, the phone call, the burner phone you’ve smashed and drowned in the murky Bronx river, the words you’d never thought you’d pronounce. ‘One bullet, in the head.’

Door rumbles snap you out of your thoughts as a figure in a green scrubs walks towards you, his face is pale and motionless, a death mask.

‘I’m really sorry. The damage was extensive, shreds of the bullet stayed in her brain. She’s in a coma,’ he says as he squeezes your shoulder. ‘But lucky to be alive.’

*

The recovery suite has cool green walls and an eerie glow, monitors beep with precise persistence. You walk towards the bed, sit on the edge and lift her palm, warm, unaware, and picture yourself moisturising her skin with her favourite tea tree lotion, like after that first surgery, when she still had hope, strength for more. 

You recall different hospital beds after many operations, with each new hope that the nerves would heal, muscle mass stop retracting, telling her miracles happen, and she will do again what she does best: run, chase, shoot. 

Moving your fingers across her forehead, you look at her sealed lips, closed eyelids, frozen body, and how dozens of outside lights reflect on the wall above her head, twinkling with life. The city pounds. People travel back home, to their mothers, fathers, lovers, to hold their warmth, see them smile, dance; hear them laugh. And you think of the stars that blink above you both, the earth that makes another turn around the sun; the motion of life. 

About the Author

Lina A. Carr is a writer with a particular interest in short fiction. Her stories have been published in Idle Ink, Clover & White Literary Magazine and Bandit Fiction. She lives in London. You can find out more about her at www.linacarrwriter.com or follow her on Twitter @LinaCarr_Writer.

Resurrection by Imogen Foster


In my dream-space I pick up a garden fork 
and driving steel through compacted soil
I find that among the worms and sharp stones 
I am excavating something that looks familiar.

Fragments rise from the dirt, shape themselves
into cups and saucers, a floral jug, a sugar bowl.
Intact again, each piece takes its place on starched linen, 
fine drawn-thread work laid over red chenille.

A photographer ducks under his black cloth, 
his subjects posing, stiff beside their tableware.
Behind them stands the housemaid, my grandmother,
sent into service aged eleven, and now about to speak.

She tells me only that this house is a lonely place
and that she has been taught a few words of French 
in case they should be required: le lait, the milk; 
le pain, the bread; le sel, the salt, la bonne, the maid.

About the Author

Imogen Forster returned to writing poems a few years ago, after a long interval, much of which she spent working as a translator  from French, Spanish and Italian. She has an MA in Writing Poetry from Newcastle University, and expects to publish a pamphlet in 2021. She lives in Edinburgh, and longs to be able both to travel outside the city again and to attend live poetry events.

@ForsterImogen

Czech Poetry Spring





In our last instalment, we introduce Czech authors who were born in 1940s and 1950s and thus spent a large part of their lives in an undemocratic regime. They represent poets that do not normally get selected for translation by academics or editors although Tomáš Míka who translates his own work, has been published and known internationally. He moves in multi-lingual cultural spaces with ease and inhabits them with irresistible charm. However, there are many reasons for the lack of representation in translation: behind the Iron Curtain, post Jaroslav Seifert & Nobel Prize for Literature, and with enormous success of Miroslav Holub in English, hunger for Czech poets rapidly decreased. Moreover, over the years it has been overshadowed by the proximity of the bigger, and thus more significant Poland.

And there is the issue of translation itself. Jiří Dědeček is a singer and songwriter as well as outstanding translator of many French texts into Czech. His poems reveal that musicality, and with rhymes, so natural in Czech, pose a difficulty in other types of languages, namely English (and I have tried my best to do his text justice). Jiří Žáček is incredibly popular and even those who do not read poetry and do not know any other poet, know his name. His poems are recited to toddlers by their mothers, school children find his texts in their reading books. However, his easy and playful rhymes, self-deprecating sense of humour do not travel well. Moreover, at present rhymes are sneared upon in Czech poetry, as one unnamed editor of a prestigious literary periodical explained to me, We don’t do rhymes anymore, that is not how you are supposed to write. This rejection of rhyme in contemporary poetry is even more surprising because a rhyme in Czech is as natural as is iambic pentameter in English.

And then there are poets who made their names in other parts of creative industry. Daniela Fischerová is famous as a scriptwriter, playwright and prose writer both for children and adults. She was also a close associate of president Václav Havel, another playwright who had made his name worldwide before leaving his mark in Czech history and politics in the 1990s. On the other hand, Olga Walló is a true legend of translation, radio, TV and film, admired by many, even worshipped.

Olga Nytrová represents a stream of Czech poetic output that gets rarely noticed or mentioned even locally – she is a spiritual and philosophical writer who uses verse as a medium of expressing and unpicking her understanding of the world and universe with a large number of successfully published books.

Natalie Nera (All texts below are translated by me apart from Tomáš Míka, the translation is his own.)





JIŘÍ DĚDEČEK
And the Blues

A Blues
The blues
no blame here
and with you

Your rhythm I hear
lost and dear
losing
myself, adieu

My soul 
turns to dust
and what 
attracts me

to you
are lost
sorrows
of a refugee

Avoiding
the old place
and somehow
have answers

Greeting all
who are disgraced
and prostate
cancers

A blues
The blues
what can I change
the unchanged revivalist

I in you 
With no roots
growing for 
my wreath

My blues
You are like the story about a maid
who
is waiting to be saved,
by the pen that becomes blade

From Pošta shora, 2019 publisher


DANIELA FISCHEROVÁ
Looking Back

Lot’s wife looked back
And at once

Orpheus looked over his shoulder
And at once

I have a contract with my memory
That some videos are not going to be shown anymore
 In return I give up
Names foreign languages and addresses
My memory demands more and more

Perhaps
Right before the end
 I am going to look back
 And in one horrifying glimpse
I will face myself
Like a naked old octopus
That will see herself in the mirror for the first time 

From Potvora mlsná, příběhy, portréty




TOMÁŠ MÍKA
Stripping off
 
I’ve stripped off my thirst while waiting
I'm almost a stranger
as before
back then long ago
deliberately distancing closeness
Only when it's not within reach
I am calm and at the same time I’m not
Only then do I pull my hands out of my pockets
and use them as a welcome
So far, just a picture
not painted yet
And I immediately turn my back on it
and start to run
never to come back
I know I'll find you farthest
from you

xxx

At her wailing wall
he didn't shed a tear
even the wall fell silent
very desirable
but he was unwelcome
with a fishing rod
without a hook

xxx

I tend towards the minimal
closing both my eyes and doors
all other entrances and exits
restricting movement to breathing
Sleep is not coming
but the encounter is drawing near
I know it

Transl. by the author






OLGA NYTROVÁ
Socrates’ glass 

Eyes full of tears
the irritating Prague air
tired bronchial tubes
nasopharynx full of pus

Breathe in again
a clean sip of air
hear the seagulls by the sea
catch the rhythm of the waves
Socrates’ glass
full of red wine
left next to the scented sticks
and the slender candle

Let the words flow
like a tune
their juicy flesh
taking in like paradise fruit from the lost beach.


OLGA WALLÓ

You shouldn’t trust me at all
I can lie but not well

It’s dark outside like in the light well 
An unlikely likening
 
The dark outside with daggers and a spell
And courage badges
Ice melting in the mountains I climb
Every day something happens 
for the last time
 
From Láska k stáru (Love in the Twilight Years)





JIŘÍ ŽÁČEK
Wings

If our ancestors had wings,
they would fly.
But our ancestors were fish 
God knows why.
(Approximately half a billion years ago.)
Perhaps to you, that’s a blow?

Back then, the strangest creatures roamed the seas:
Their eyes of a fish,
Teeth of a fish, 
Fins of a fish, 
A tail of a fish -
their missing-wings – a secret wish.
But evolution supports constant change.
I think of those wings all the time 
And how it’s all arranged.
 
I hope our descendants  
Will really try
And in gazillions of evolutionary days,
Powered only by their arms,
they will reach the sky
The fish will be amazed!
The salamanders will be amazed!
The mammals will be amazed!
And you will be amazed, it’s not just a phase!










 
 

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Jiří Dědeček (b. 1953, Karlovy Vary) is poet, translator, educator, singer-songwriter. He was educated at a specialist secondary school for languages. In 1976 he graduated in librarianship from Prague University and was conscripted to the army, after which he worked in the Prague Language School as an interpreter in French. In 1983 to 1987 JD studied script writing in FAMU (Prague Film Academy).
He started writing in 1974, and his output includes poetry, songs, plays and musicals. “Because the possibilities for publishing any of my work were practically non-existent, I started singing in clubs and theatres. And so for this reason I am mostly known in my country as a folk singer. I see the texts of my songs as the main area of my creativity. The music is simple, but it si there to help convey the thought.” His publications include: Texts (1982), published by the Club of Friends of the Semafor Theatre; What happened in the ZOO (1987), from the children´s publishing house Albatros; The moon over the housing estate (1987); etc… In 1988 his translations of Georges Brassens´songs from the French was published. His recent collection of poems Questionnaire was firts published in Munich, and, after the revolution, in Czech Republic

Daniela Fischerová, b. in 1948 in Prague, is a prominent Czech writer, playwright and script writer as well as an award-winning author for children. For many years, she worked as an editor in a publishing house. In the 1990s, she was one of the close advisors of President Václav Havel. She currently teaches creative writing. More information at https://cs.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daniela_Fischerov%C3%A1.

Tomáš Míka was born in 1959 in Prague, Czech Republic. His original work includes books of poetry “Nucený výsek” (Destruction of Animals), 2003 and “Deník rychlého člověka” (Journal of a Fast Man), 2007 and “Textové zprávy” (Text Messages), 2016. His book of short stories “Und” was published in 2005. He works as a translator from English, among the authors whose works he translated are Samuel Beckett (Watt), John Bunyan (The Pilgrim’s Progress), James Hogg (Confessions of the Justified Sinner), Jack Black (You Can’t Win). He lives in Prague.

Olga Nytrová (b. in 1949 in Prague) is an academic, philosopher, editor, poet, playwright and writer. She is head of Prague’s Writers’ Society and literary-drama club Dialog na cestě. She also works in clerical service of Czechoslovak Hussite Church. She represents a spiritual brand of Czech poetry. More information at https://cs.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olga_Nytrov%C3%A1

Olga Walló was born in 1948 in Prague. She read philosophy at the Charles University and then carved a successful career as film dubbing director, writer and translator of literary texts, including Shakespeare etc. She has always written poetry but started publishing her poetic texts at the age of fifty. She currently lives in a remote cottage in the middle of the deep mountain forest in the Czech Republic but counts among legends of Czech radio, film, television, literature and literary translation.

Jiří Žáček, born in 1945 in Chomutov, is a writer, poet, playwright, translator and author of textbooks for young learners. With accolades of national and internation awards, he is truly a national treasure. His poems are known to generations of children and adults alike, popular for their melodic grasp of Czech language, easy rhymes and wit. More at https://jirizacek.cz/ and https://cs.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ji%C5%99%C3%AD_%C5%BD%C3%A1%C4%8Dek

THE GIBETTING OF WILLIAM JOBLING by Tom Kelly

As a child I used to play by Jarrow Slake, or ‘Jarra Slacks’ as we would say. It was near to Saint Pauls’ Church, Jarrow at mouth of the Tyne. It was there I heard stories of a man being hung. It was enough to terrify me, even though I knew nothing of the man that had apparently been hung.

I did not know William Jobling had been tried and hung in 1832 at Durham Assizes, for the murder of South Shields magistrate Nicholas Fairles. And that his body was then escorted by one hundred soldiers from Durham to Jarrow Slake where he was placed upon a gibbet twenty-one foot high.

Then in 1972 I became immersed in William Jobling when I researched the Jobling story for an exhibition ‘The Gibbetting of William Jobling’ at the Bede Gallery in Jarrow, held in October of that year, I wrote the chapbook ‘The Gibbeting of Wm. Jobling’ which accompanied the exhibition. Prior to that the doyen of north-east writing, Sid Chaplin, had written an article for the Jarrow Festival programme in 1971 which had prompted Vincent Rea, curator of the Bede Gallery, to organise the Jobling exhibition that went on to successfully tour the U.K.

I also discovered Professor Norman McCord of Newcastle University had written a paper in 1958 for the South Shields Archaeological and Historical Society, entitled, ‘The Murder of Nicholas Fairles, Esq., J.P., at Jarrow Slake, on June, 11th 1832’. Professor McCord kindly sent me a copy in 1972. That said the Jobling story had remained largely untold, although does feature in Fynes and Richardson’s Local History Table Books.

Incidentally when carrying out the research I unearthed Jobling’s gibbet which was in the Newcastle Keep. It had been given to the Newcastle Society of Antiquities in 1856 when Tyne Dock was developed. The gibbet was a key piece in the Bede Gallery exhibition. The gibbet was a derrick which would have been used to discharge cargo from ships on the Tyne. It was extended to a height of twenty-one and was secured in a cement base. It can now be found in South Shields Museum.  

In 2010 Filmmaker Gary Wilkinson and myself produced a short film,’ The ‘Jarrow Voices’ looking at the Jarrow Crusade and Jobling at which features Saint Mary’s churchyard at Heworth in Gateshead. I find this particularly poignant and important as there is a memorial stone dedicated to those who lost their lives in the 1812 Felling Colliery disaster. It underlines the conditions in collieries in the nineteenth century in the north-east.

Now when I pass Saint Mary’s churchyard at Heworth in Gateshead, and see the stone dedicated to those who lost their lives in the 1812 Felling Colliery disaster when entire families from eight years of age. In that same cemetery lies the grave of Thomas Hepburn, who founded the Northern Union of Pitmen in 1831. His gravestone reads, “This stone was erected by the miners of Northumberland and Durham and other friends.” It’s the ‘other friends’ that has, for me, such power.

A cursory glance at colliery records reveals a frightening death toll. Jarrow’s Pit was no exception: January 25th. 1817, forty-two men and boys killed and in a near duplication of events in August 1830, a further forty-two lost their lives, leaving, on that occasion, twenty-one widows and sixty-six fatherless children.

From the beginning of the nineteenth century, miners had voiced their dissatisfaction with working conditions and their annual bonds and in 1810 they eventually went on strike. Mineworkers had to sign an annual contract known as a ‘bond’, which meant they had to stay at a particular colliery for a year and a day. As most pitmen were illiterate, they would make their cross on the bond and the viewer or manager of the colliery would add the man’s name.

No permanent union organisation existed, however, until the establishment of the Northern Union of Pitmen of Tyne and Wear, led by Thomas Hepburn. He was a Wesleyan Methodist, as were many pitmen. He was also a lay preacher and learnt to read and write through classes organised by the Methodists.

In April, 1831, he led the pitmen on strike. He wanted boys to work only a twelve-hour day as they had been working sixteen hours. He also sought the abolition of the ‘Tommy Shop’ system. This was a system whereby pitmen were paid in ‘Tommy checks,’ vouchers that could only be used in company stores at prices greatly unfavourable to the pitmen.

This strike led to battles between pitmen and the militia. Hepburn, at his meetings, pleaded with his men to keep a peaceful strike. These meetings were held at Black Fell, Boldon Colliery and Friars Goose, Gateshead and on one occasion, twenty thousand pitmen met on Newcastle’s Town Moor.

The strike lasted until September 1831. Some concessions were gained: Hepburn was made a full-time official but there was still bitter opposition to the unions.

In April 1832 there was another strike among pitmen of Northumberland and Durham, when they refused to sign their annual bonds. Once again there was violence and Cuthbert Skipsey, a miners’ leader in North Shields was shot and killed by a constable. Cuthbert was Joseph Skipsey’s father. The judge recommended leniency and the constable was given a six-month sentence with hard labour.

On June 11th. 1832 at 5.00 p.m. Jarrow pitmen, Ralph Armstrong and William Jobling were drinking in Turners pub in South Shields. On the road near the toll-bar gate, near Jarrow slake Jobling begged from Nicholas Fairles, a seventy-one-year-old well-known local magistrate. He refused. Armstrong, who had followed Jobling, attacked Fairles with a stick and a stone. Both men ran away leaving Fairles’ seriously injured on the road. Two hours later Jobling was arrested on South Shields beach where horse racing was taking place. Armstrong, an ex-seaman, apparently returned to sea.

After his arrest Jobling was taken to Fairles home and was identified as having been present but that he had not been the main assailant. Jobling was taken to Durham Jail and when Fairles died of his injuries on June 21st, was charged with murder. Jobling was tried at Durham Assizes on Wednesday, August 1st. The jury took fifteen minutes in reaching their guilty verdict.

Judge Parke, in his summing-up attacked the unions, “Combinations which are alike injurious to the public interest and to the interests of those persons concerned in them…I trust that death will deter them following your example”. The sentence was that Jobling be publicly executed and his body be hung from a gibbet erected in Jarrow Slake, near the scene of the attack. The judge continued, “I trust that the sight of that will have some affect upon those, who are to a certain extent, your companions in guilt and your companions in these ‘illegal proceedings’, which have disgraced the county. May they take warning by your fate”. Jobling was the last man gibbeted in the North and the last man gibbeted had been some forty years previously.

Jobling was hanged on August 3rd. Hepburn asked his men not to attend the hanging and held a meeting on Boldon Fell. After Jobling was taken from the scaffold his clothes were removed and his body covered in pitch. He was then riveted into an iron cage, made of flat iron bars two and a half inches wide. His feet were placed in stirrups from which bars of iron went each side of his head and ended in a ring, which suspended his cage. Jobling’s hands hung by his sides, and his head was covered with a white cloth.

In a four-wheeled wagon, drawn by two horses, on Monday, August 6th, his body was taken to Jarrow Slake escorted by a troop of Hussars and two companies of Infantry. The gibbet was fixed upon a stone weighing one and half tons that was sunk into the Slake, and the heavy wooden uprights were reinforced with steel bars to prevent it being sawn through. At high tide the water covered four to five feet of the gibbet leaving a further sixteen to seventeen feet visible.

Isabella, Jobling’s wife, had a cottage near the Slake and would have been able to see her husband clearly for the three weeks he was displayed. On August 31st, when the guard was removed, Jobling’s friends stole the body. His whereabouts have never been discovered.

By September 1832, the strike had petered out and the union was almost non-existent and did revive but not for some years and the annual bonds were not abolished until some forty years later.

When the union died, Hepburn tried to sell tea from door-to-door, but anyone buying from him risked losing his job. Eventually, starving, Hepburn went to Felling Colliery and asked for work. He was offered employment provided he had no further dealings with the unions.

He conformed and devoted the remainder of his life to educating pitmen and became involved with the Chartist movement. In April 1891 Isabella Jobling went into South Shields Work House, and died there, too senile to recall her husband.  Jarrow’s colliery closed in 1852 and now there is no indication of where it stood, and a school stands near its former site. Much of Jarrow’s Slake has been reclaimed.

Attempts have also been made to discover Jobling’s body but to no avail. Jobling’s body was stolen by his friends, after three weeks, when the guards were removed. They risked seven years transportation in doing so.

I am not defending Jobling’s involvement in the killing of Nicholas Fairles, a 71-year-old man, he was, an accomplice to the murder, carried-out by Ralph Armstrong. Armstrong was never apprehended. It is what the authorities did with Jobling’s body and why which particularly interests me.

What effect did Jobling have? What power did the image of his cage swinging on Jarrow slake invoke? It is a powerful image. It underlined the ruthlessness of the government of the day. Were the pitmen of Tyne and Wear bowed by its power?  Perhaps the French Revolution was too near and it was felt that the working class should be treated harshly at any sign of insurrection.

I suggest Judge Parke, the judge at Jobling’s trial and Home Secretary, Lord Melbourne and company made Jobling a symbol, a battering ram, butting the pitmen of 1832 back to work to break the union and it had the desired effect.

What would have happened if the unions had become successful and a working-class revolt had become a reality? What if there had been a more cohesive and organised revolt on a national scale? What if Jobling and the Peterloo massacres of 1819 and other attempts at working class rebellion during this period had brought about change? Shelley, after the Peterloo massacre, asked that we use this bludgeoning as a means of change:

Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you –
Ye are many – they are few.

About the Author

Tom Kelly is a Tyneside writer who has had a great deal of his stage work produced by the Customs House, South Shields.

His ninth poetry collection This Small Patch has recently been published and re-printed by Red Squirrel Press who also published his short story collection Behind the Wall.

His stories have appeared in a number of UK magazines and on Radio Four.

www.tomkelly.org.uk

Dad Teaches Me to Light Matches by Holly Magill

Welephant had done too good a job on me

him and all the scare-scar horror stories.

Boy who, on November 6th, picked up – he’d thought – 
a dead firework. Boy now with no face.

Girl who stood too close to the fire in a shellsuit – 
green and purple glued her a second skin.

Birthday sparklers, gas hobs, Bunsen burners
the casual lighter-flicks of the smoker girls in school.

Me, 19 years old. Still petrified.

*

He stands me at the utility room worktop
in the dream cottage he’d restored with Wife No.2

the counter where she spoons the cat-food
whole other room from the show kitchen.

He squares the small oblong in my palm
its rough sides flinch my fingers.

We’ll do every one together until you can.

His hand cups mine steady
guides me to do something practical, useful.

Love – matchbox-sized – 
terrifying with each strike

proves to me I can be safe

whatever lies in years either side.

About the Author

Holly Magill’s poetry has appeared in numerous magazines, including The Interpreter’s House, Bare Fiction, and Under The Radar, and anthologies –Stairs and Whispers: D/deaf and Disabled Poets Write Back (Nine Arches Press) and #MeToo: A Women’s Poetry Anthology (Fair Acre Press). She won first prize in the 2019 Cannon Poets ‘sonnet or Not’ competition. She co-edits Atrium – www.atriumpoetry.com. Her debut pamphlet, The Becoming of Lady Flambé, is available from Indigo Dreams Publishing. https://www.indigodreams.co.uk/holly-magill/4594330527

Room 6? by Christine Fowler

            Death had a headache.  He normally only picked one out of a hundred thousand people, to actually see as a representative of all the other ninety-nine thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine he collected simultaneously.  But even that one person was becoming blurred.  When you harvest souls, day in and day out for all eternity, things, people did become, well ‘samey’ he thought.

            His ruminations were interrupted by the noise of someone snoring, loudly.  He stopped as he bumped into a side table.  A bedside light sprang on and a woman’s voice said, ‘Who’s there?’

            Crap he thought, she shouldn’t have heard that.  He decided to ignore the voice.  But there it was again, ‘Who’s there I said?’

            Then he heard the click as the main light went on.  Feeling slightly exposed, a new feeling he was surprised to note, he turned towards the voice.  He saw an old woman, no surprise there, he was after all in a Care Home, to gather Rose Black. 

            The woman was pushing a pair of false teeth in which she had taken from a slightly grubby glass on her bedside table, and was squinting short sightedly at him.  ‘I said whose there?  And what are you doing in those ridiculous clothes?  It’s not Halloween.  Come here where I can see you properly.’

            Death truth to tell felt a bit overwhelmed by the diatribe, which looked set to continue.  On the very rare occasions in the past when people had seen him, they screamed and fell over dead.  But this was new.  Perhaps when he was nearer and she saw him properly, things would go back to normal and she would keel over.

            He stepped forward and she grabbed his arm.  ‘Pull down that ridiculous hood so I can see your face’ she ordered.

            ‘You’re sure?’ he croaked.

            ‘Get on with it.’

            He complied and revealed his bony skull, complete with staring dark empty orbs. 

            ‘Hmm’ she grunted.  ‘Death I suppose.  I see you haven’t had one of these new-fangled makeover thingies.’

            He felt slightly affronted by this remark and to be fair also rather bemused.  Who was this woman?  Why was she responding like this?  Had he lost his touch?

            ‘What’s the matter?  Cat got your tongue?’ then she cackled, ‘I suppose, skulls don’t have tongues?’  Then she cackled again in amusement.

            This was just too much.  He pulled himself up straight, jerked his arm from her grasp and scowling snapped, ‘Show some respect Madam.  Who do you think you are, anyway?’

            ‘Elsie, Elsie Rowbottom and proud of it! ‘ She added with emphasis.

            He spluttered, ‘Elsie, Elsie Rowbottom indeed.  Who is she when she is at home?  I came here for Rose, not an Elsie, Rose Black.’

            ‘Well that’s not my fault is it?  If, you can’t read door numbers.  I’m number nine and she is number six.’

            He turned abruptly, stalked to the door and looked pointedly at the brass number, clearly a six.’

            She laughed, ‘That handyman was supposed to fix that ages ago.  See’ she said, as she made her way slowly across the room with the help of a rather unusually carved walking stick.  She prodded the stick at the number on the door and spun it round.   ‘A nine, it just looked like a six because the top screw is missing.’

            ‘Ah’ said Death, ‘I should have spotted that.’

            ‘Now I’m awake come in and have a tipple of gin with me.  There’s not much choice of company here, they’re nearly all doolally.  I could do with a good old gossip.’

            ‘But are you not worried about’ and he indicated his face this, me, Death?’

            She chortled, ‘I am living with death all around me in this place.  They might as well all have popped their clogs.  After all, they sound like zombies or look like corpses or as good as anyway.’

            He looked at her properly.  He could see what she had been and what she might have been and indeed what she had become.  Yes, she was worth a stop and he sat down on the lone armchair by the window.

            ‘Take the best seat, why don’t you!’

            He got up and this time he took her elbow and led her over to the chair.  He then perched on the end of her bed.  ‘Better?’

            ‘Yes, I see you can be a gentleman when prompted,’ as she poured two generous measures of gin.  ‘No ice.  This place doesn’t run to that.’

            ‘Nor gin I warrant’ Death wryly observed.

            ‘You’ve got that right, mister, ‘ she replied as she clinked glasses and settled back more comfortably in her chair.  ‘Now what can you tell me about where I’m going.  I’ve always wanted to know.’

            ‘Sorry that’s a trade secret.  Why don’t you tell me about yourself?’

            ‘Me, no.  Nothing special about me.  What you see you get.  I’d rather talk about you, after all it’s not every day a girl gets a visit from Death and lives to tell the tale.  I will live to tell the tale?’  She remarked as an after-thought.

            ‘Seems like it you’re not on my list for today.’

            ‘That’s good,’ she said visibly relaxing.  ‘Now you were saying about your job… a bit frustrating eh?  Can’t find Rose what’s its name?  I’ll take you there myself when we finish the gin, she’s a right pain in the proverbial, if you know what I mean,’ and sniggered.

            Taking a large gulp of the good stuff, she continued.  ‘You know I never thought I’d end up in here.  I swore I’d never end up in a place like this.  The scrapheap.  Once you’re in there’s no getting out you know.  That’s right there’s no escape, unless you call losing your mind, escape.  Mind there’s a lot of them opt for that.  Sniffing she took another large mouthful, absentmindedly topped up her glass to the brim, and waved it at Death in invitation.

            ‘No, thanks I’m OK at the moment’ he said waving his hand in negation.

            ‘Thought about it myself, but couldn’t quite bring myself to do it.  It’s my curiosity you know.  I always want to know what’s going on.  Take the matron, being looking smug for weeks now.  I couldn’t quite fathom it, until I found her phone on her desk.  I had a gander didn’t I.  Read her texts.  And wouldn’t you credit it I found some saucy texts to one of the board members.  I send a copy to my phone never know when it might come in handy that sort of information.’  She paused for breath.

            Death by this point was in quiet admiration of Elsie’s grip on life, and for that matter apparent grasp of new technology.  ‘I’m impressed.  How did you know how to do that?’

            ‘Easy peasy one of the carers snuck her kid in when the school had one of those occasional day things.  Never did that in my day.  We got our hands slapped with a ruler if we weren’t working and messing about.  Come to think of it, we didn’t have to be messing about we just have to have caught the teachers’ eye.’

            Death coughed ‘You were saying about how you knew to send a copy…’

            ‘Oh, the phone, yes well.  Any way I found the kid bored out of his skull messing about in the laundry room.  So, I just gave him some occupational what’s it’

            ‘Therapy.  You mean occupational therapy.’

            ‘Yes, that’s it.  Occupational therapy, so I got him to show me a thing or two then let him download some game thingies and play on it.’

            She waved the gin bottle again, ‘More?’

            Death looked at his glass, what the Hell he thought.  ‘Hit me,’ he said.

            There was a satisfactory glugging sound as she poured another stiff gin for both of them, then she sank back into her armchair once again.  ‘Where was I?’ she said as she stared at him for inspiration, then fascination.  ‘Where does it go?’

            ‘Where does what go?’

            She waved her glass, ‘This.’

            ‘Same place as yours, to my head of course!’

            She laughed, ‘Ain’t that the truth.’  Silence fell.  Her eyelids drooped, then she startled, ‘Jerry’ she exclaimed.

            ‘What?’

            ‘You remind me of Jerry.  My Jerry.  My lovely Jerry’ she mumbled, as she seemed to drift off to sleep.  Death tiptoed out of the room.

            Elsie woke up with a start.  What a strange dream, she thought, as she cast her eyes towards the sun burst clock on the wall.  5.30 am, worth getting out of her armchair and getting into bed.  The lazy care workers wouldn’t be in until at least 9.00 am to see if she was up for what passed for breakfast here.

            ‘Oh, my aching bones’ she grunted as she attempted to lever herself out of the armchair.  Her arms trembled with the effort and she collapsed back in frustration.  ‘Bugger, Bugger, Bugger.  I’m not going to be stuck here again, am I?’ she muttered, ‘The indignity.’  Gritting her teeth and with one almighty effort she managed to rise.  First clutching the window sill to steady herself, she tottered over to her bed and flopped down heavily onto the easy wash and dry nylon cover.

            Gathering her breath before the final effort of getting in to it, her eyes caught sight of the glasses on the table.  Two glasses.  Two glasses.  She chewed her lip ruminating and realised that she had her teeth in.  ‘Well bugger me’ she blurted, ‘it was real.’

About the Author

Christine began writing fiction in 2018 both short stories and a novel featuring an alternative reality.  In addition, she set herself the challenge to write a Crime Story, this is part way through at the moment.  At the same time, she attended some adult education writing courses to discover the tools, shortcuts etc that writers use.  During this she became more interested in writing and performing poetry and since 2019 it has been her primary focus.  However, she really likes the character in this short story and will write more about her in the future.

I Remember the Bedroom by Cristina Discusar





i slept in every bed
the blue cover 
was my favourite
                         like the dark air
every time i woke up i was alone
                         and knew nothing
it was only my eyes that captured:
the backyard behind the block of flats
the window
the park in our neighbourhood
the health centre in the afternoon light
- as if they were polaroid snapshots
and i could not recall the cold, as if it never existed

several days ago, i sat on a bench and watched
two cranes, moving slowly as they were building a block of flats 
it looked like they would never finish 
I recorded it deep inside my mind

several days ago, i watched electric wires and trees
and didn’t blink

About the Author

Cristina Dicusar (07.08.1993) is a young, talented poet from Chisinau, The Republic of Moldova, who was already introduced to our readers in the autumn in our Translation Tuesday feature. She published her first poems in the „Clipa” magazine and in a poetry collection: „Casa Verde”/„The Green House”. Now she is writing her PhD with a thesis on contemporary Romanian poetry. She read at various literary clubs: The “Vlad Ioviță” Workshop (Chisinau, Republic of Moldova), “Tram 26” (Romania), “Mihail Ursachi” House of Culture (Romania), Bar Behind the Curtains (Czech Republic), Prague Writers’ Club (Czech Republic), Beseda Castle, Švrček Theater, (Slovakia) etc.  She is member of the “Vlad Ioviță” Creative Writing Workshop and of the “Republica” Cenacle. The featured poem is visually powerful and brings a different poetic view from a different corner of Europe. Translation by Cristina Discusar, Mircea Dan Duta and Natalie Nera.

Still Life with Fabrice Poussin

For our regular readers, Fabrice is like an old friend. We know him as a fantastic writer, poet and artist. Today, we can enjoy and admire his still life photography in our slide gallery, just the right dose for our times to remind ourselves of what ‘beautiful’ means and that our world really is beautiful.

About the Author

Fabrice Poussin is the Advisor for The Chimes, the Shorter University award-winning poetry and arts publication. His writing and photography have been published in print, including Kestrel, Symposium, La Pensee Universelle, Paris, and other art and literature magazine in the United States and abroad.