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It is a whirlwind in here

Month

June 2022

The Nun And The Elephant Are In Heaven Now, Enjoying The Same God

Many years ago, I received a phone call from a rather panicked Government Administrator. There was a huge weekend Arts Conference being held, for all disciplines in the province. A reader who was to present entertainment at lunch was unable to attend. Could I fill in for him. It was two days away.

Yes, said I.

My Elephant stories are all under five minutes, and they are all amusing. They read themselves. Why not. 

What I did not realize was the extent of this conference. Nor did I fully appreciate that the readings were to be held during the luncheon. Something like an after dinner speech. In the middle of the dinner.

There was one other English reader, the late Bill Bauer. Bill is a genius, a wit, a funny fellow, and an excellent reader. A tough act to follow, so I was glad to be a co-participant. The other two readers were reading in French (New Brunswick is a bi-lingual province). They were to go first, Bill and I second.

The venue – for a reader – was a hell-hole (if I may be blunt). Two large rooms filled with tables and post-meal listeners. There was no way to face them all at the same time. Bill seemed fazed by nothing but I was uncomfortable. I was glad enough the French readers went first.

They were both poets (as was Bill). My French is far from the best but, by their reading method and the reaction of the audience, it appeared that they read dour and angst-filled poems. Sadness and despair crept through the room(s). At least Bill and I would be a contrast.

Bill is an excellent performer. He knows when to show them and knows when to hold them. He is insightful, philosophical, innovative, and just damned funny. I will laugh at a poem of his which I have read a dozen times. Few can successfully end a poem with the main character screaming the immortal words: “Aphids, aphids, aphids.” Bill does.

It may be that we were both assisted by the dour poets, for Bill’s applause was enthusiastic. I was admittedly disconcerted by attempting to read to these hundreds of people scatted upon two sides of me. But – let’s face it – ya gotta laugh at The Elephant as he takes his concerns to God. And (I hope) appreciate God’s thoughtful and kindly replies. If Bill left them laughing (and he did) then The Elephant left them laughing more.

At the end, it was time for all the participants to bustle back to their conferences. But some did come up to make comments to the readers. And then occurred an event which I will cherish to my grave.

An elderly French nun (in real nun garb) came up to me. She was assisted by a younger nun. The old Sister put her hand on my arm. She looked up at me, and in a conspiratorial voice, thick with her French accent, said: “Ah, that Elephant.”

And she smiled.

Kafka Plans An Escape From His Life

In my novel, Kafka In The Castle, I fill in **missing** diary entries from Kafka’s real diary. He either did not fill in these days himself, or he destroyed them. It is estimated Kafka destroyed 70% – 80% of everything he wrote. 

############################

19 June 1917

           I arrived here tonight far later than usual. I had been on a day trip for the Institute, dealing with a court case for a few hours. I was in the station at the furthest reaches of Prague, waiting for the last train to bring me downtown. A taxi would have been more efficient, but I found myself in no hurry. I walked around the station, and found myself staring at the Departures List. All those places, with many trains still passing into the night. Bern. Copenhagen. Florence.

     I had a large amount of the Institute’s money with me (I had won our case), and all my travel documents in order – the war can be circumvented by bureaucrats. I think it was just having all that money which gave rise to such ideas. I realized that, with the right explanations, even London was possible. If I so desired. I had it all arranged in my head. The official letter I would send to Max, before I left the empire, authorizing him to pay back the Institute from my bank account. I had even figured – accurately – the interest to add for each day up until next Monday. And I knew I could trust him to tidy up my other business matters – my apartment, and this tiny house.

     I would tell him to destroy all my manuscripts – he could use this stove. Other letters I could write from other places – to Ottla, to F., to my parents. I thought that I might even be able to eventually make my way to Palestine. That would meet with Max’s approval.

And the trains kept departing before my eyes, one, and another, and another. They were not even crowded, the hour was so late.

And then, there was my train. Back into Prague.

I was the last one on.

Salvation Is At Hand With Sister Darling On Partridge Island

Sister Darling, of

The Rarefied Church of the World (reformed),

Has been away on Crusades,

In the Provinces,

To attract (and save)

New Adherents.

(All Blessings to them).

But,

She has thus been absent

From mine own Salvation here,

On Partridge Island,

&

I do sorely feel the

Privation.

Howsomever,

A neatly penned note has

Been delivered,

Via an outgoing fishing boat,

To let me know that

My fulsome prayers are

Soon to be answered.

Hallelujah!

I’m The Lighthouse Poet Laureate of Partridge Island /1821 – 2022 / A lot of stuff have I seen / A lot of stuff to report}

Some Franz Kafka For Father’s Day

In Kafka In The Castle, I fill in the ‘missing’ diary entries from Kafka’s real diary. He either did not fill in these days himself, or he destroyed them. It is estimated that Kafka destroyed 70% – 80% of everything he wrote. 

On this day, Kafka spent the afternoon with his father – an unusual event. And he even had a beer – he was not much of a drinker. But his estranged sister, Ottla, was coming to visit. Her parting with her father months before had been vicious. Kafka hopes to make her visit passable.

***************************************

25 June 2017

We are rarely alone with each other, and the strain was palpable. I wanted to act as normally as possible, but since my usual conversation is what generally infuriates him, that seemed unwise. We read the newspapers, and I managed enough comments about the articles, and elicited his tiresome opinions about the war, and didn’t argue with him too much, that the afternoon – although slow – passed with little rancour. I even had a beer with him, and he showed his surprise. And, I even enjoyed it – but then, I had earned it.

In fact, it may have been the unaccustomed alcohol which lessened the shock of seeing Ottla enter the apartment with mother. Father stood from his chair, the newspapers falling at his feet. “Ottla has an hour before she must catch her train,” said Mother. “I have asked her in for some tea.” Father glared at her an excessively long minute without speaking, managing however to give me an occasional menacing glance. He then abruptly sat again, gathering his papers and holding them in front of his face. “Don’t give her too much,” came his voice from behind the pages. “Too much tea can make a long journey uncomfortable.” I knew that he had already read the pages he held, and I wondered what he was thinking.

About ten minutes passed, and then mother came back and asked if we would like any tea. “Yes,” my father answered, but instead of waiting for it to be brought to him, as is his usual practise, he followed mother into the dining room. And I followed him. Ottla didn’t look up, but he did manage to ask some questions about the farm, and she delivered some cautious replies. She stayed another twenty minutes, then I walked her to the station. It had been mother’s idea to come home, and Ottla had not strongly resisted. I know that she and father will never apologize to each other, but at least they now speak. Once we were out of sight of the house, she gripped my hand and held it until we reached the train. “How can I love that monster?” she asked from the train as it pulled away. “How can you not?” I replied. I hope the noise from the wheels drowned out my words.

26 June 1917

Fight and you die. Surrender and you die.

27 June 1917

Live and you die.

The Monarch Of The Lighthouse

I try to hoist the Union Jack

By sunrise,

And lower it by sunset.

I am not always faithful

To the former.

This morning, I was slow to the mark.

The sun was fully risen

In the East.

The colours caught the sun

Part way up the mast.

However, my chagrin was overtaken

By the antics of my cat/kitten,

Black as the disappeared night

With one white mitten.

I call him Paw.

So I went over to see

What was what.

He was huddled over

A folded Monarch butterfly,

Getting warmth from

The flag stones,

And much the worse

For wear.

It stood firm on its feet,

And stayed upright when the wind

Ruffled its wings.

Paw sniffed around, but kept

A respectful distance.

The smell of Death,

I suppose.

Still,

That Monarch has lasted out

The day,

And might still be present

When It is time to

Lower the flag

For the night.

I’m The Lighthouse Poet Laureate of Partridge Island /1821 – 2022 / A lot of stuff have I seen / A lot of stuff to report}

It Was A Dark And Stormy Week

Bop bop bop,

On the end of my nose.

Bop!

Paw, my cat/kitten

Black as a seam of coal

With one white mitten

Is waking me up.

Bop!

It is his way and,

Thankfully,

He never uses his claws.

‘Get up.’

‘Attention must be paid.’

Bop!

So I rise from my bed,

& my warm quilts,

Pull on pants and sweater

Over my pajamas

And follow.

I know my place.

He leads me to the door

Of my lighthouse keepers house,

And waits.

So I pull it open

And out he bounds.

Sunshine

Blue sky

Stiff breeze across

Partridge Island.

We have been days engulfed

In fog and rain and

FOG.

I let him gambol.

I follow into the sunshine.

I think it possible

Yes – possible –

That I might actually

Be able

To take off my sweater.

I’m The Lighthouse Poet Laureate of Partridge Island /1821 – 2022 / A lot of stuff have I seen / A lot of stuff to report}

For World Oceans Day: She Had God In Her Feet And Angels In Her Summer Hair

I visit wharves and gaze out to sea.

It is a pleasure that took hold some ten years ago. I don’t know why, for I certainly had experience with oceans and coast long before that. For some things it seems its time just comes.

I prefer small working ports, gritty and smelling of fish and lobster and ocean. The scurry and comings and goings (though I also like them in the evening when most work is done). I walk the docking between the boats and peer from the end of the wharf. I ponder distant shores or endless sea and screaming gulls with sometimes seals and whales and archaic Blue Herons.

Last night, when I thought the wharf was my own, a man, woman, toddler and dog arrived. They seemed to do much as I was doing, though they knew the owner of one of the fishing boats. The man was gruffly talkative, the dog was rambunctious, the woman apologized for the toddler’s dirty face and the little girl didn’t quite know what to make of me. Friendly and chatty but she wouldn’t take my hand as I offered to walk her up a gangplank.

I left them on the docking between the moored boats and started to walk on the wharf itself.  The fishing boats and the docking were parallel to the wharf.  I was half way along when I heard a shout. I heard the dog. I looked over and this is where life becomes art becomes life. It was a Kodak moment. It was a Motorola moment. It was a ‘freeze frame/real time/fast forward’ moment. It was a composition/edited moment. It was all these things which came to my visual mind. All this and the knowledge that there was no way I could get there if I was needed.

The little girl was going for the gold. She had God in her feet and Angels in her streaming hair as she raced between the moored boats. Her dirty face was wide with excitement and it is probably the happiest she has been in her life. The man was restraining the dog and the woman was in athletic pursuit. They raced between the boats and the mooring lines and the tools of the fishing trade. The dock swayed in the movement of the waves.  I could not believe the swiftness of the child. The woman finally took what seemed to me a runner’s stance and eventually grabbed the exuberant child. I heard, over the water, admonishments of what could happen if she had “gone under a boat.” All – of course – true.

But the dog understood.

For Franz Kafka On His Death Day – Does It Ever End?

Franz Kafka inches toward being dead for 100 years.He died on this day, 03 June, in 1924. he did not go gently into that good night, though he probably was just as happy to be gone. It was difficult to satisfy Kafka,

I wonder what Kafka would think about the worldwide communication and information of today. He was a rigid fixture of the staid (he hated using the telephone). He also was a keen observer of the world around him (he wrote the first newspaper report about aeroplanes, and he invented the safety helmet). It was more this deep divide in his personality which caused him his problems, about which he so famously wrote.

He did not fit into his personal world, yet he fit into the real world perfectly. He was adored by his friends and by many ladies. He was respected at his work and rose to a position of power. His stories were published to acclaim in his lifetime. 

Kafka lived a Kafkaesque life. He died a Kafkaesque death (he caught tuberculosis because he drank “pure” unpasteurised cow’s milk). He was rigid in his personal beliefs (until proved wrong), yet he was a beacon of compassion to others.

Kafka was always on a tightrope. He looked at things with such accuracy that his comments can seem bizarre. Supposedly his last words were:  “Kill me, or you are a murderer.” They were to  his doctor, as Kafka beseeches for an overdose of morphine.

Who Gets The Free Booze At The High School Reunion?

When they reach the food tables, there is not the curiosity from others concerning who is who. Most are intent about filling plates and returning to their tables.

Everyone at their table is getting steak except for Betty, who has opted for the salmon. She also opts to carry Allan’s plate as she sends him on to the bar to get another round of drinks. She looks at Ed and Lee.

“Are you two satisfied with tea and coffee?  Those drinks they are going to bring to the table, carried by sadly inexperienced students.”

“That’s fine with us,” says Lee. “And we can always snag some bottled water.”

Plate in hand they return to their table. In their absence a plate of rolls and butter has been deposited in the middle. There is also a bottle of red wine, with a bow and a note attached.

“Well, well,” says Betty, wanting to immediately open the unaddressed envelope. “I’ve never seen the like of this.”

“A modest but decent bottle,” says Alison Alexandra.

“Maybe you have a secret admirer,” says Betty.

“Maybe you do,” says Alison Alexandra.

Betty Dragger is taken by surprise at the idea and snorts. She then sees Big Stakes Gamble approaching, and clears some space for the drinks he is carrying. He is fast at a sip of his beer before he speaks.

“Who got the wine?”

“We don’t know,” says Betty.

“Then someone should open the card.” He picks up the bottle and hands it to Ed.  “And that sounds like a job for an officer of the law.”

Ed is not sure if a joke is being played, and if it is being played on him. He is as curious as not, so he takes the knife beside his plate and slits open the envelope. He reads the card and laughs.

“Well?” asks his wife.

“’For the long service of our respected teacher’.” Ed hands the bottle back to Allan. “’With thanks’.”

There is not a lot of conversation as they eat. Each of them is adequately hungry, and the food is appreciated. Allan offers to open the bottle of wine, but Betty and Alison Alexandra are content to keep with what they’re drinking. They suggest he take it home. When he suggests another round, they are happy to let him get it. Servers come to collect their dishes. They ponder whether to go and get dessert. Betty says ‘in for a penny / in for a pound’, so they, en masse, swoop down on the apple pie and ice cream. Then they are well and truly sated.

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