True and true The ocean knew Sea eyes that see As mermaids grew You touch wet hair We rise to your dare Leaving us on the beach Gasping for air
TomSquitieriis an award-winning war correspondent, is blessed to have his poetry appear in several publications, the book “Put Into Words My Love,” the art exhibition Color: Story2020, and the film “Fate’s Shadow: The Whole Story.” He writes mostly while parallel parking or walking his dogs, Topsie and Batman. Find him on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and his blog.
As summer comes False love appears Let it flit by Like an unwelcome gnat Patient for the real thing.
It shall come I feel it in the Silent seconds of A surprise smile In the sigh of the silence Before the pop From the slow soar Of whoa
Meet me on the green grass Of the outfield Late innings just for us We will enjoy the stars In the sky And not those who Left the field. We will steal real kisses Not bases
I just want to nest my lips on your belly and proceed from there As I dream of us Under the olive tree I long to do that for a very long time
Tom Squitieri is an award-winning war correspondent, is blessed to have his poetry appear in several publications, the book “Put Into Words My Love,” the art exhibition Color: Story2020, and the film “Fate’s Shadow: The Whole Story.” He writes mostly while parallel parking or walking his dogs, Topsie and Batman. Find him on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and his blog.
Standing now Nervous and eager Competition in Restrained desires Torrid in subtly Knowing you want Me to proceed Our inosculate Yet will not say so Artistic, beautiful, sensual, stirring All crave our entelechy You need do nothing Other than look comment Direct, capture Our descant Yearning for you to Create in limn Before you send me away And enjoy as fully As you wish
Tom Squitieriis an award-winning war correspondent, is blessed to have his poetry appear in several publications, the book “Put Into Words My Love,” the art exhibition Color: Story2020, and the film “Fate’s Shadow: The Whole Story.” He writes mostly while parallel parking or walking his dogs, Topsie and Batman. Find him on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and his blog.
Our love from afar perhaps today As we wait for tomorrow I sit at Lake Como and will wait for you. I sail on the water And slice through the waves Eager to reach the shore The firm of land The cove of your arms The spray from the water Still on my face Lake Como is any place We are together Where the fresh love Of nature and anticipation Join Invigorates my smile Stirs my heart Charges my body Demands that we are one So we comply
Tom Squitieri is an award-winning war correspondent, is blessed to have his an award-winning war correspondent, is blessed to have his poetry appear in several publications, the book “Put Into Words My Love,” the art exhibition Color: Story2020, and the film “Fate’s Shadow: The Whole Story.” He writes mostly while parallel parking or walking his dogs, Topsie and Batman. Find him on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and his blog.
I like to talk to the sky when all others are sleeping The time of far off fox cries Trees rustling with sleeping birds My old dog crooning in his sleep like a puppy While those in far off parts of the universe Smile at my enthusiasm and tranquility
Stars on a clear night, hidden moonbeams frolic for me Clouds merrily dance The invitation of the rare meteor It’s always a wonderful night
The sky has become my friend more Each week, each year Patiently waiting for me to acknowledge Gifts it is giving and waited to give Portals that await me still Beauty of the unknown My true home
Do not question why I am up During these hours Ask instead why you are not The sky has room for many Who know what Train whistles at night mean
Tom Squitieriisan award-winning war correspondent, is blessed to have his poetry appear in several publications, the book “Put Into Words My Love,” the art exhibition Color: Story2020, and the film “Fate’s Shadow: The Whole Story.” He writes mostly while parallel parking or walking his dogs, Topsie and Batman. Find him on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and his blog.
Something slammed stone-like against the tiled roof and thudded onto the porch. I pricked my ears. Perhaps this was Dorf, my erstwhile hospital neighbour, who would lob stones at cats when afflicted by one of his seizures.
Cautiously cracking open the door, I poked my head out, but disturbed Dorf was nowhere to be seen. On the porch steps lay three tattered bird-clumps. I bent down for a closer inspection. No wounds riddled the birds’ bodies. Raising my head to the sky, I saw in it nothing that might have caused a sudden collision. I pictured the birds as self-destroyers grown suddenly determined to plunge with dumb rapture from some immeasurable altitude, their heavy, fragile forms rupturing the air’s draperies, and to dash themselves upon the naked skull of the earth, whereupon they would shatter into countless shardlets, fragments of porcelain figurines.
The birds lay unmoving. Their little corpses could not dispel the bewilderment that had possessed me. Still unrecovered from my dream, I was in a state of confusion. Deciding that the birds probably ought to be buried, I headed for the square to find out whether a cemetery suitable for such a purpose existed in our town. But the desperate cries of my neighbours soon stopped me in my tracks. Their yards, too, were thick with fallen birds. Frau Breusser screamed without ceasing: the sight of their dead bodies disgusted her. Her husband, a plump, moustachioed gentleman, tried to shunt her back into the house with both hands, but, wriggling herself out of his broad grip, she thrust her head under his armpit, glanced anew at the birds, and let loose another shrill, despairing scream.
Townsfolk came running from all directions with the incredible news on their lips. Four dozen birds had fallen onto the town. The event was beyond explanation. Standing in the square, I threw back my head and immediately discerned several more black dots plunging from on high. As they hurtled earthward, the dots sprouted feathers, beaks, wings, then thudded dully into people’s yards. It was hailing—no, raining birds. One falling corpse killed the dog of gaunt, bony Herr Frohmbruck. Another crashed through the ramshackle roof of Frau Towitsch’s kitchen and nosedived right into the boiling soup. Frau Towitsch now sat atop her bed, face covered with pieces of granular ice, which, so Doctor Ruf assured her, would save her from burns. Herr Frohmbruck, meanwhile, wandered the town’s streets with the dog’s carcass in his outstretched arms, inanely addressing anyone who crossed his path with the same rhetorical question: “Why? To what end?!”
The birdfall continued. We had poured out into the streets when it began, but now we all retreated into our houses and gazed on our roofs in consternation: would they hold firm? Herr Frohmbruck, finding no one else to whom he might pose his absurd question, presently turned homeward, too. But as he approached his house, he was forced to hasten his pace and then to run, dodging bird bodies as they plummeted down at him while pressing his cherished companion tightly to his breast. A little skylark missiled into his shoulder: opening his arms in surprise, Herr Frohmbruck dropped the dog, uttered a shriek and fled in panic.
The streets now stood unpeopled save for Tamar, weedy little Tamar, who strode the empty pavements and exclaimed grandiloquently, “This is a punishment from God!” Birds fell behind her and before her, to her right and to her left. Still, Tamar, like a solitary wanderess, raised her long, withered arms ever heavenward, calling unto her unfathomable Lord. We all slept badly that night, ears pricked in trepidation. Against roofs, roadways, pavements beat the hooves of unseen horses: birdfall, incessant. Now abating, now rising to a fresh crescendo, the thud continued all night. As if some strange blacksmith, unknown in our parts, was forging chariots for us. One by one, these unfathomable chariots trundled through the town, and the staccato clip-clop of the horses’ hooves set its denizens atremble.
Morning pressed us to our windows. The world beyond the glass dismayed me. The streets were thick with a jumble of bird bodies. Adrift of feathers, heads, and wings had formed on my porch. I cracked open the front door with difficulty and slammed it shut at once. I was loath to step out into this dead world. I still clung to life.
All that livelong day, I remained indoors. But in the silence, interrupted only by the dull thud of falling bodies, I fancied that I, too, was now ceasing to exist. My neighbours did not venture outside either. Not even the lecherous ringmaster and his vile company showed their faces in the open air. Everyone yelled back and forth from flung-wide windows. The entire town remained homebound.
Townsfolk shouted from window to window to pass on the latest news. Resolving to send word to someone, anyone, about what had transpired in the town, Shai, the boy with the carrot-orange jug ears, tied an alarm-signalling red ribbon to one of his pigeons and released it into the sky. The pigeon arrowed aloft but plummeted lifeless onto the roof of its own coop a moment later. Shai released pigeon after pigeon, only for them to fall, prone and dead, against the sheet metal of the coop. Shai lost all his birds. No one dared venture out of doors that day.
At night I was awoken by an eldritch wail. I leapt out of bed at once. The air rang with the sounds of yowling and caterwauling. I ran to the window. The birdfall had slowed now. In the glow of the street lamps, miraculously ignited by our one-eyed lighter, I managed to discern a deranged feline feast. Cats—bloodthirsty hordes of them, hordes more populous than any we had yet seen hereabouts—were devouring the fallen game. Enticed by the prospect of a wondrous repast, they must have converged on the town from all its environs. It was difficult to make them all out in the half-dark, but those of them illumined by the dull lamplight was a dread spectacle to look upon. Their muzzles were smeared with the blood of the torn-asunder birds and smothered with their own. They threw themselves upon the prostrate little carcasses with a blunt, voracious fury. Their triumphant, throaty gurgle-purring resounded throughout the town. They bared their teeth and hissed at one another even as they tormented the bodies of the wretched birds. As if these pickings were too slim.
But, ears shut to their terrible wailing, you might—so long as you did not scrutinize them too closely in the dark—have taken the cats for wayfarers who had gravitated come nightfall to lonely, smouldering, sparsely sited fire pits where they now sat, shoulder against shoulder, breathing hotly on their frozen hands. These wayfarers, I fancied, had occupied all the streets of our town and were now settled in them, warming themselves by the feeble, fickle flames. It struck me that I, too, was just another wayfarer gone astray. As if I had embarked upon a journey—only to forget its purpose…
The cats exulted until morning. Come sunrise, as if growing fearful of what they had wrought, they dispersed, hid away in lurking places known only to them. What would they do there? Gather strength, perhaps, for a fresh blood-spattered feast?
By degrees, uneasily, our town began to recover from the shock it had sustained. People peered from their windows, emerged, cautious and vigilant, into the streets, and gradually inured themselves to this new reality. An absence of preternatural goings-on gave them all the more reason for doing so. Birds continued to fall, of course, but not as often as before. At any rate, they fell less portentously than they did on that first day. Or did we merely perceive things thus? And although our streets were still scattered with lifeless bird bodies, we had somehow grown accustomed to them. Without filling anyone with joy, this spectacle no longer prompted the primeval horror we had all felt at the outset. Not that this lightened my heart. I felt just like the birds who had unlearned to fly…
A few days later, a scholarly expedition arrived, God knows from where in the town. Clad in blue mantles, its members, stepping over the fragments of Frau Frenkel’s bust, solemnly gathered in the museum next to Herr Dwork’s pupa and deliberated for a long time the possible reasons for our misadventure. Emerging into the streets, they took a stroll about the town. The birds continued to fall. The scholars failed to reach any conclusion and, astonished by this peculiar happening, its causes unknown to science, hurriedly quit the town limits.
The townsfolk devised explanations of their own for what had befallen them, giving voice to myriads of deranged theories. Still, they ultimately came up with nothing that could account for the strange bird deaths. In the town’s environs, the birds lived carefree, soaring on high, weaving their nests, screeching their songs, but no sooner did they cross some unseen aerial frontier than they plummeted dead to the ground. And there was nothing to be done about it. Our street sweepers, headed by Herr Punck, managed, with some difficulty, to remove the freshly accumulated corpses overnight, only for the roadways to overflow the following day with yet more bodies of smashed birds.
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Eventually, Herr Korp, who had devised a special chair for Frau Fisch, invented a certain contraption and demonstrated it to us one day. His invention was akin to a Chinese parasol, but one that had been strengthened, made more robust, and atop protruded several sharp little points. Herr Korp explained to us that the force of a bird’s fall, or rather the force of its impact, would be diminished if, instead of crashing flat onto such a parasol, the bird’s body was impaled on—that is, transpierced by—one of the protruding points. Having tried out Herr Korp’s contraption, we felt a measure of relief. To a certain extent, we were now protected from the blows raining down on us. Our joiner, the corpulent, thick-necked Pohlman, immediately set about fashioning these marvellous contraptions, and within a week, there was not a single unparasoled passerby to be seen on our streets.
Truly, the denizens of our town were inventive folk. With a great number of birds impaled on these magnificent parasol-spits, my former neighbour, the culinarian Ruther, wasted no time in cooking up an exquisite stew made of assorted varieties of fallen game. Thereupon we, who but recently had understood nothing of matters ornithological, at last, came to grasp the fine differences in how these wondrous viands tasted on the tongue. We learned that throstle made for a fine luncheon when accompanied by dry white wine. That skylark baked in a pie numbered among the lightest and pleasantest of breakfasts. That nachlieli was remarkably good in a stew, providing, of course, that it was served as a second course after a luscious hors d’oeuvre—braised pelican head. And that, without a shred of doubt, there could be nothing more wonderful than a formal candlelit supper at a festive table adorned with a dozen minuscule hummingbirds threaded onto a spit, roasted to a crispy finish, and garnished with foie-gras made from the liver of a wild Muscovy duck.
This unexpected surfeit of remarkable bird dishes transformed everybody into such gourmets that culinarians from neighbouring towns began penning us regular missives with a view to wheedling recipes from us. But since no one in our town could read, they never managed to winkle out our secrets.
Our cats grew fat, becoming so gargantuan in their dimensions that they struck fear into our dogs. If the quiet yowl of a cat, hungering in a basement somewhere, should reach canine ears even during daylight hours, canine bodies pressed themselves at once against the legs of human masters. Things came to such a pitch that the town’s fire brigade, led by the splendid Herr Esch, embarked upon a special hunt for these behemoths. As witnesses would later testify, the hunt was nothing if not a danger-fraught nocturnal safari. The cats, staggering in their hugeness, leapt at the foolhardy firemen, seeking to sink their claws into the humans’ throats while simultaneously pinning them to the ground with the weight of their bodies. A few brave souls who had undertaken to assist the firemen sustained injuries that night, with some bitten so severely they suffered massive blood loss. The accursed cats, who themselves had incurred heavy casualties during the hunt, gathered the remainder of their forces came daybreak and avenged themselves by tracking down the wretched Dorf.
When still fancying himself a tamed-and-trained white mouse, he hazarded a step beyond the threshold of his home, the merciless brutes pounced upon him from all sides and in an eye-blink had ripped him asunder before the eyes of his stupefied family. The very next night, the fire brigade, its ranks swelled with fresh volunteers, squared off against the cats in a final battle to the death. The cats fought with a fury that defies description. They were a far cry indeed from the hares we had vanquished with a few clyster pipes. The town rang with the din of battle. But the firemen emerged triumphantly. The cats retreated. Some of these behemoths, succumbing under the onslaught, fled the town. At the same time, the rest took refuge under buildings and remained long in hiding, not daring to show their faces. This battle was not one they would forget in a hurry. It was now only rarely that they snatched fallen birds from the roadways and dragged them, furtive, back to their basements, forever glancing about them as they did so. And, with Herr Esch keeping sentry every night, the cats’ sorties were seldom crowned with success. Their meagre diet, the boy Shai informed us, left them so emaciated that little by little, they were forced to kiss goodbye to their colossal dimensions. Those of them who survived at all on the starvation regimen eventually regained their former commonplace look. Having rid itself of the insatiable, voracious cats, the town began to flourish. Now that the bird meat formerly devoured by the nocturnal marauders was ours in abundance, a wonderful idea suggested itself. Mere days later, the efficient Herr Prück had already delivered the first batch of a magnificent game ragout to the railway station, from where it would be dispatched to different towns. Orders poured in from every direction. Everyone wanted to treat themselves to some delicacy or other. Our street sweepers no longer dumped yesterday’s carcasses beyond the town limits. The town began to grow rich. Birds fell as regularly as ever.
Scrawny Tamar was no more to be spied darting about the vespertine streets, no more to be heard calling unto her God or raving madly about a mystical punishment. Restored to health and grown plump, she was the first of us to leap out of doors each morning, raring to pile the birds that had fallen overnight into a roomy trolley. “God’s blessing!” could have been her mantra now.
I, too, began to feel better. My gloom-ridden thoughts abated somewhat. “Well now,” I would ask myself, “why not at long last indulge in a little happiness along with everybody else?” The money raised from the sales of the game delicacies went towards purchasing a tremendous number of exotic trees. These we planted far and wide, each and every street now bristling with branches, our yards now thick with baobab and eucalyptus, Japanese spruce and silken Scottish heather. No birds sang in the trees, of course, but no one grumbled at fate: beneath the trees, after all, were birds aplenty.
I ought not, perhaps, to have shared in the general delight. Why would it seem I should care anything for culinary delicacies and exotic flora if I did not know who I was or how I must proceed with my life? Yet, the acuteness of my inner turmoil began to soften. The sensations that had only recently afflicted me were dulled somewhat as if my memory grew gradually enfeebled. I revived them ever more seldom in my recollections.
The town, meanwhile, was witnessing new developments. One day, Frau Breusser, the selfsame Frau Breusser who had threatened to faint at the sight of the wretched bird-corpses, drew our attention to the extraordinary colouring of their plumages. As yet unused in our commercial endeavours, the birds’ feathers, in point of fact, where simply being discarded at the dump. Frau Breusser took the lead in fashioning herself a dress, stunning in its beauty, from condor plumes, swallow down, and black crow wings. So subtle, so refined was this combination of colours that the town’s ladies all set to dressmaking without delay. No more than a week later, these mistresses of seamstressing, headed by the indefatigable, once-enamoured-of-me Frau Fink, were parading about the square in astonishing fineries. Again, however, Frau Breusser outshone them, fashioning for her plump husband a mantle of sorts from the long tail feathers of a wild swan. The mantle was trimmed with jay-plumage, which iridesced blue-green. Roused to genuine envy, the other men—myself included—soon acquired wondrous raiments of our own.
I no longer deliberated the worth of continued existence. Such deliberations had come to seem odd to me. I forgot what prompted them to begin with. So exuberant were my fellow townsfolk, so beautiful our surroundings, that lamenting my lot would have been absurd, unwarranted. An extraordinary lightness, a genuine elation suffused my spirit at long last. How good, how glorious life had become! What elan, what euphoria reigned over the town! I felt capable of exulting in it alongside all and sundry.
Come evening, our alleys metamorphosed into wondrous, fantastical gardens beneath whose trees strolled townsfolk arrayed in bright attire fashioned from the many-hued gifts of fallen birds. But five days ago, the birds suddenly ceased to fall. We failed to take this seriously. We simply could not believe it. Everything that had happened here of late, everything that had transformed our lives so absolutely—it could not, had no right, simply to cease all at once! But not only had these strange birds stopped falling, they no longer so much as ventured into our town. We awaited them every day, but no one crossed the town limits, even by accident. Could it be that they had communicated to one another by some mysterious system of avian post that our town held danger for them?
We tried to lure them in, scattering grain about the street and courtyard. But even the sparrows made no response to our desperate call. Nimble-minded Herr Prück then purchased several birds in a neighbouring town and brought them to ours. But no sooner were the birds released from their cages than they soared aloft and quit our town at full tilt. Ah, how we wanted to take to the air in pursuit! Were we truly incapable of compelling their return?!
There followed a collective throwing up of hands. Could it be that our birds would never reappear? Would not a single one fall anew from the sky, venturing, at last, to rupture the air’s quilted draperies in the act of self-destruction? Would we, leaving our houses of a morning, never again find their bodies warm, prone, open-winged in our yards?
Tamar once again walked the streets with mad lamentations on her lips. How were we to live now? We could not, after all, return to a time when the birds did not fall upon us from the sky. We wandered senselessly in our variegated raiments amongst the silent trees. Living in this town has become more than we can bear. Donning mantles and dresses fashioned of the finest feathers, we all proceed to its outer reaches. A field spreads out before us. There are no birds here either. Silence. Unable to contain himself, a townsman breaks into a run. The wind ruffles his plumage. And now, shot with flash flickers of bird-colour, we all run across the empty field, onward to wherever birds may still be falling from the sky. We all run: Herr Esch sporting his shiny, eagle-crested fireman’s helmet, the boy Shai flourishing his peacock-tail, Frau Breusser flapping her black crow-wings, Herr Frohmbruck kicking high his crane-legs, the culinarian Ruther squawking, the joiner Pohlman craning his thick neck. I, too, run with all my might, doing my utmost to break free—even for a single instant—of the round, ponderous earth. Up ahead, Tamar flaps her wings faster and faster. Only Dorf, devoured by the accursed cats, is not in our midst. We dash across the field, wings aquiver, taut-feathered tails outspread, heads craned, beaks agape, screeching, screeching… Another moment and an updraught shall send our flock aloft. We shall soar into the sky, and trace in it one furious circle, and then, wings folded, plunge, heavy stoned, stone-birded, down to our damned town.
Testimony is a Russian-language novel by an Israeli author. Reminiscent, in its power and scope, of Süskind’s Perfume, it is, in the words of one critic, “the ultimate psychedelic phantasmagoria.”
The plot of the novel isn’t complicated. A man who considers himself a writer accidentally ends up in a town whose inhabitants cannot read. In all other respects, the denizens of this place are almost indistinguishable from those of other similarly sleepy, godforsaken settlements. But no, come to think of it, something else sets them apart, too: they’ve become remarkably adept at forgetting. Forgetting all their tragedies, troubles, misfortunes, and even their workday worries.
Exuberant and cruel, these simpletons come to regard the newly arrived man as a Messiah of sorts. But he fails to live up to the hopes they place on his shoulders. In fact, he fails to live up even to his own hopes since the book on which he has expended so much time, and energy ultimately vanishes from his mind. Doing his utmost to understand who exactly he has become now that he’s no longer a man of letters, the former writer realizes, with some surprise, that his own failure is gradually slipping from his memory. In a newfound state of happiness, he hurtles rapidly towards his end together with the other denizens of the deranged town.
This is a novel about hope and the futility of aspiration, about the isolatedness and insularity of our consciousness, about the tragicomic, absurd nature of human relations, about the insane passions of the people surrounding us. Little by little, the narrative takes its readers into a reality that borders on phantasmagoria and immerses them into the world of the human unconscious – a world of clandestine hopes and secret fantasies.
Attempts to peer into the unconscious give rise to myths. The more said myths become part of daily life, the more they frighten people away or, on the contrary, suck them into a vortex of being, endless and unknowable. The novel’s protagonists – ordinary, run-of-the-mill men and women – become participants in inconceivable events; mirages and chimeras become an everyday reality.
The language of the novel is, if anything, the language of parable; it is concrete in its details yet simultaneously metaphorical.
Alexander Jonathan Vidgopis a theatre director, author and screenwriter. Alexander is the founder of the Am haZikaron Institute for Science and Heritage of the Jewish People. He is the recipient of the Zeiti Yerushalaim Prize and the medal “For contribution to the development of the national spiritual heritage of the Jewish People.”
Alexander was born in Leningrad in 1955. In 1974 he was expelled from what is now called the Saint-Petersburg State University of Culture and Arts “for behaviour unworthy of the title of Soviet student.” Having worked as a locksmith, loader and White Sea sailor, he was drafted into the army and sent to serve in the Arctic Circle. Graduating from the Russian State Academy of Performing Arts in 1982, he was involved in 23 productions across the USSR, 12 of which were shut down. In 1989 he emigrated to Israel, where he has worked as a director, editor and researcher. He is the author of several books.You may find him on Facebook.
I rush back from St. Croix in early April to my home in the Hudson Valley because I can’t miss spring. I look forward to the cheerful daffodils and aromatic hyacinths pushing up near the house, but, really, I return for the soft pussy willow, the dogwood blossoms embracing the field, the apple trees’ smear of pink on the hill, the maple’s red leaf buds against the crisp blue sky, the delicate bright green leaves of the poplars, the haze of Hudson Valley light at dawn breaking over the field. It is also prime time for foraging the fleeting fiddlehead ferns—which have only a week’s window before they unfurl and become toxic—and wild asparagus. I look at my photographs and Instagram postings from the previous year and time my arrival to accommodate all those delicate gifts of hope and bounty and culinary delight that comprise mother earth’s annual reawakening.
Once I’m home, foraging provides a valid excuse to go for a walk, to be outside, reacquaint with the property, check on things. To take Dexter on a jaunt. There is something immensely satisfying about eating off the land, off my own land. I am fortunate to have several extraordinary meadows and ample woods, which are particularly generous in early spring when the garden still sleeps. Friends plant and tend to productive gardens, reap trunks full of tomatoes in July. My clay soil nor the deer are worth fighting—I have tried—and so I let nature decide what she will give me. And there is something about finding food rather than shopping for or even growing it, making a plate of tender wild greens particularly precious.
I admit that foraging is a bit of a misnomer for what I do at this point. I know, for the most part, where to find the delectables. I discovered an enormous stand of Ostrich fern years ago, and so I make a beeline to that spot in the woods after hitting the stream for watercress. My secret, inadvertent crops become destinations on my walks. I scour the field and forest floor on my way. Sometimes, I am lucky to stumble across unexpected dividends, which become part of future rounds.
I have a half dozen places I seek asparagus. However, because they are spread over acres of the field, it is hard to remember exact coordinates. Every year I tell myself that I will map them, but I don’t. The Christmas tree (complete with red bulbs) each asparagus spear becomes when it grows out would serve as a marker if John, who bales my field, didn’t take them down with the grass. So, in a way, I still have to re-find the asparagus each year. The sense of discovery still holds.
I harness and leash Dexter since he can’t be off-lead, what with all the distractions—turkeys and squirrels in the distance—before we head out the door. I put on my tall black Hunter boots to reduce the possibility of being fodder for ticks and poison ivy, but both pose significant risks. In mid-April, the meadow is still low. The spears are visible. I push away the grass and poison ivy with my toe and break the stem off at the ground. Just a month later, the two-foot-high grass obscures the asparagus. By that time, if I find asparagus above grass height, it is gargantuan and—save for the last foot—inedible. By the end of May, the grass is three-foot—Dexter can barely get through—and most of the un-found asparagus has likely gone to seed.
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A few weeks ago, I waved a handful of asparagus in front of Dexter’s nose and said asparagus! Hoping to train him to sniff them out. And he does, especially when we are close, in an area I know has yields. The problem is, he seems to like asparagus, or at least he likes seeing me riled up. If he gets there before I do, he nips off the top, treasured inch. Noooo, Dexter! I hold him close and am cautious in our approach.
To be fair, half of my asparagus harvest actually comes from my garden. I transplanted some from the field a decade ago, and it has spread among my perennials. But even in the garden, discovery is involved. The delicate helmeted head doesn’t come up exactly where I look, that is, where it was before or where I planted it. From the same underground root system, or perhaps the result of a previous year’s blowing red seed, it pushes up behind, through, under other plantings a foot away. While I visit the field daily, I check the garden twice on a sunny May day; it can grow six inches in a single afternoon. I keep an eye on coy Dexter to make sure he stays away from that part of the garden. And I rarely plan even weekend getaways during this time. A long weekend can mean the asparagus will grow out and go to seed, the season is over, curtailed.
I place whatever I’ve harvested in a glass with a half-inch of water until I am ready to cook them, generally when there’s a critical mass. The asparagus continues to grow, sometimes another foot if I wait a day or two. It’s comical and a little creepy, actually. These are not twenty stems of equal length and girth in a purple rubber band. Each spear has a character all its own, bulbous or slender, curled, crooked or bowed.
I grill, roast, saute or boil them. I have had to become inventive in their preparation, as for weeks, they are a diet staple. I throw them into a risotto with ramps and fiddleheads or savour them alone. My latest favourite dish is asparagus roasted in olive oil and sea salt, then cut into bite-size pieces, tossed in their cooked oil, French feta and juice of half a lemon. Magic.
When people set out to forage, they are usually after the big five, like on a safari: fiddleheads, morels, truffles, chantarelle, ramps. Many other abundant and invasive edibles with high nutritional values interest people less, such as nettles, watercress, garlic mustard, lamb’s quarters, sorrel, elderberry, milkweed, and walnuts. And people love to eat flowers in salads or waters or teas. I have a hard time sacrificing peonies, pansies, lilac and roses. Asparagus is not generally on the list, it seems. Perhaps because it is uncommon, or not really wild, but feral, having escaped domestication. Sometimes I wonder if someone a century ago grew asparagus here in the upper field. I heard that there used to be an asparagus farm in the Hudson Valley that was chopped into a housing development. Asparagus pushes up in their lawns between above-ground pools and trampolines. I ponder how many of those homeowners recognize— or are oblivious to—their good fortune.
Foraging has become a bit of a rage, almost a competitive sport, in part driven by the foodie movement and reconnection to nature. I sometimes wonder where people are foraging. Public parks? Private property? A friend-chef texted the other day asking if she could come to forage my property. I think she was after morels, which I haven’t seen much in the past few years. I didn’t want to sound or be stingy, but I’m keeping it for personal consumption if I find a cherished morel. She had been out foraging with someone else who found forty pounds of morels. Forty pounds sounds almost wrong, an assault. I found only three morels this year. I soaked them overnight in salt water to extract the bugs, drenched them in flour and sauteed them in bacon grease, black pepper and garlic. I served them with a clean palette of boiled asparagus and savoured every morsel. Spring.
Cynthia McVaydivides her time between St. Croix and an old orchard in the Hudson Valley, where she writes, forages and makes art. Cynthia’s work has been published in Orion, University of Pennsylvania Gazette, Chestnut Review, DASH, The Ravens Perch, 2019 Orison Anthology, Ragazine, daCunha’s Anthology 2, and Eclectica. Her work was the winner, the 2018 Orison Anthology Award in Nonfiction; performed in the UK as Editors’ Choice winner, daCunha’s 2017 Flash Nonfiction Competition.Find her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and at www.cynthiamcvay.com.
Do you apologize religiously too? Raise a hand. I’m not catholic, but guilt part I understand. My mind autocorrects every “You hurt me”, “Please, don’t” To “Sorry”, “My bad” and “I won’t”. Belittling myself so much is my personal act of self-violence, Tell me, what should I say instead? How do I fill up this heavy silence? Honesty on one shoulder and abandonment issues on the other, Together they make the hardest game of “Would you rather”. Reading between the lines won’t ease my worries, “Please, don’t leave me” sounds a lot like thousand “Sorrys”. I wonder, what do you expect from me? Answer my questions honestly. Shut up? Speak up? Be more? Be less? What am I saying, does it make any sense? Did I interrupt you? Do I take up too much space? If it’s too awkward, don’t worry, I’ll disappear without a trace. I’m so sorry for the way I think, speak and behave, To be forgiven for sins of being myself is all I crave. Should I shrink myself? Should I grow bigger than trees? Am I annoying you with all these apologies? Is this guilt overflowing me or am I overloving it? The good old thrill of being wrong feels like the right fit, And just like that, my own kind of chant again, Saying “Sorry” one more time instead of “Amen”.
Anastasia Hrechanais a law student, an avid reader and a poetry amateur from Ukraine. She believes that writing, as a form of art therapy, is very helpful tool to process emotions and feelings.
If there is a vacuum, fill it with your imagination.
By Ian Douglas Robertson
“Hello! The Old Forge. How can I help you? …Lord Hamforth! How nice to hear your voice. How have you…and Lady Hamforth… been since last year? …That’s very good to hear… Same time? … Yes, number thirty-two. By the window overlooking Arle Street… I’ll have it set for two as usual … Yes, I’ll inform Jean-Claude. He’ll be delighted …Rimauresq Cru Classé? … I’m sure we have some in the cellars. If not, I’ll have a case delivered. 2015? … Yes, it was a very good year.” Clive laughs politely. “Quite right! Every year in Provence is good. Well, we look forward to seeing you… both. Goodbye for now.” Clive puts down the receiver and writes Lord Hamforth (for two) 7.30 in the ledger on the mahogany table.
Jenny enters with an armful of immaculately ironed and folded table cloths.
“What are you brooding about?” she says, with a slight arching of the eyebrows.
“It was Lord Hamforth. He rang to confirm the booking for their wedding anniversary.”
“It’s the 25th already. For two as usual?”
Clive continues to stare pensively at the ledger. “A bit sad, really, don’t you think?”
“The way he sits there chatting away ten to the dozen. She couldn’t get a word in edgeways, even if she tried.”
“I think it’s very romantic.”
“If you say so. I wonder what he talks about.”
“Their holidays in Provence, no doubt.”
“What’s the point of talking to someone when they don’t reply?”
“I’m sure he knows what the answers will be.”
“Why on earth should he?”
“After you’ve lived with someone for so many years, you can virtually predict what they’re going to say.”
“How tedious? Do you always know what I’m going to say?”
“More or less,” she says.
“Why bother talking then?”
“It’s called communication, my dear… Not that you’d know much about that,” she appends.
“I feel rather guilty, not to say a little ridiculous, colluding in this pretence.”
“Why? As long as it makes him happy.”
“Is life just one big sham then?”
“Sorry, darling, much as I’d love to discuss the meaning of life with you, we’re rather busy at the moment. Can I leave Lord Hamforth in your hands then? Don’t do anything silly now, will you?”
“Jenny, how long have you known me?”
“And have I ever made a hash of things?”
“Not often. But you find Lord Hamforth’s wedding anniversary somewhat unnerving.”
“Well, don’t you?”
“I suspect it’s the highlight of his life.”
“But it’s just a charade.”
“And we are merely the players.”
Recognizing the reference, Clive sculpts a half-smile.
He places the pen back on its stand. “No time like the present,” he mutters and heads towards the kitchen.
“Clive is unsure whether his lordship is trying to be funny or not, so he chuckles ambiguously.”
He hesitates for a moment in front of the swing door before entering the sanctum sanctorum of the Old Forge. Jean Claude is belligerently territorial about his kitchen.
The place is abuzz, sous chefs and assistants dashing hither and thither, recklessly carrying sizzling saucepans and flaming frying pans. Clive tiptoes between the stainless steel benches, dodging personnel seemingly unaware of his presence.
Jean Claude is busy working on a creation, his brow creased and slightly moist with concentration.
“Bonjour, Jean Claude, ça va?”
Jean Claude does not answer.
“It’s Lord Hamforth’s wedding anniversary. Thought I’d better remind you. Bouillabaisse for starters, followed by Daube with polenta for him and ravioli for her.”
“Plus ça change, plus c’est la mȇme chose,” says Jean Claude dryly.
Clive isn’t quite sure what Jean Claude is getting at. Is he making some profound philosophical statement? Or doubting the worth of his profession?
Watching him bent over the bench, a look of manic intensity in his eyes, Clive envisages Jean Claude as a medieval alchemist on a quest to discover the elixir of life.
“So, can I leave it up to you then? 7.30.”
Jean Claude throws a fractious glance in Clive’s direction.
Just as Clive is about to turn, Jean Claude straightens up with an audible creaking of his spine. “It’s a terrible waste of haute cuisine,” he mumbles.
“Not at all,” says Clive, though he secretly agrees.
“I burst my kidneys to make a creation pour épater le monde only for it to be left on the plate.”
“The customer is always right. You know that, Jean Claude.”
“Oh, you and your customers!”
Clive smiles. Jean Claude has a somewhat deprecating view of the customer. “Comme jeter des perles aux pourceaux,” he once uttered in a fit of rage.
“Has Lord Hamforth ever complained? He has nothing but praise for your culinary skills. What more do you want?”
“Someone to eat my food.”
“You can’t have everything.”
Stefan is laying the starched tablecloths Jenny brought up from the laundry room.
“Stefan, a word.”
“Yes, Mr. Clive.”
Why does he insist on calling me, Mr. Clive? Mr. Montford or just plain Clive would do.
“Lord Hamforth’s wedding anniversary. Table 32 as usual. You remember the drill, I presume.”
“Oh, yes, Mr. Clive. He will be with his wife, no doubt.”
Clive does a double-take but instantly regains his composure. “Yes, absolutely.”
“Lady Hamforth will taste the wine first. Right, Mr. Clive?”
“Right, Stefan. And you will wait an appropriate length of time for her to express her opinion before half-filling the glass.”
“Of course, Sir.”
“Now, everything must go swimmingly.”
“Seamlessly,” Clive clarifies, immediately realizing that Stefan probably doesn’t know that word either.
“Please remind me, Mr. Clive. How should I address her?”
“Your ladyship, Stefan.”
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“Yes, of course.”
“And how many times should I ask her if she is enjoying her meal?”
“Once is sufficient. Well, maybe twice, just to be on the safe side.”
“And don’t forget to comment on how beautiful she is looking. That always goes down well with his lordship.”
“Of course, Sir. How wonderfully beautiful you are looking tonight, your ladyship!” says Stefan woodenly.
It is seven o’clock. Tension is mounting.
Clive is aware of feeling edgy as if he is about to perform in a play that has been inadequately rehearsed. He dreads the thought that he may have to improvise.
Through the front window, Clive recognizes Lord Hamforth’s Mercedes as it pulls up outside. Bob Rollins, the liveried chauffeur, gets out to open the back door for Lady Hamforth to get out. Allowing some time for this to happen, he then goes around to the other side and opens the door for his lordship.
Watching them mount the steps to the entrance, Clive can’t help noticing how happy Lord Hamforth looks, his long white hair shining silver in the subdued evening light, his back as straight as a rod. Clive rushes to open the front door. “Good evening and welcome!” Lord Hamforth waits for his wife to enter and follows closely behind.
“You are looking splendid tonight, both of you!” says Clive gushingly. “And may I say her ladyship is looking especially stunning.”
“Yes, she is, isn’t she? It’s our fiftieth wedding anniversary, you see, Clive. Very special. Do you like the gold necklace I bought her?”
“Magnificent! Magnificent!” says Clive, making a show of admiring the opulent piece of jewellery. “Well, we shall have to make this a night to remember, won’t we?”
“Indeed we will. Thank you, Clive. You are always so willing to please.”
“Just doing my job, your lordship.”
“No, I would not hesitate to say that you go beyond the bounds of duty. And I want you to know that her ladyship and I greatly appreciate it.”
Clive ushers them to their table, pulling back her ladyship’s chair to allow her to sit.
“May I get you and her ladyship an aperitif?”
“As long as it’s from Provence.”
“Of course, your lordship!”
“What do you say, my dear? Shall we be devils?” Lord Hamforth looks across the table expectantly and waits patiently for a response. “I think it’s a yea, Clive. What do you recommend?”
“May I suggest the RinQuinQuin, a delicate flavour of peaches and peach leaves? I think it’s just up to her ladyship’s street.”
“Her cup of tea, you might say.”
Clive is unsure whether his lordship is trying to be funny or not, so he chuckles ambiguously. “Stefan will be here shortly to take your order, your lordship.”
As Clive withdraws, he hears Lord Hamforth strike up an ardent conversation, if it can be called that, with Lady Hamforth.
Stefan arrives with the bottle of Rimauresq Cru Classé. “Good evening, your lordship,” he says, and then turning in Lady Hamforth’s direction, adds, “I must say you are looking wonderfully beautiful tonight, your ladyship.”
Lord Hamforth beams with delight and pride. “I told her so myself, but she is so modest, Stefan. I am so glad someone else appreciates her beauty.”
“I’m so sorry to hear that, your lordship. We shall miss you.”
Stefan is slightly stuck for words, so he holds out the bottle of Rimauresq Cru Classé, “Slightly cooled, isn’t that right, your lordships?”
“Perfect, Stefan. Exactly as her ladyship likes it.”
Stefan uncorks the bottle and pours a small amount of the pinkish wine into her glass. He waits patiently, as he has been told, eyes expectantly wide in anticipation of her approval. He counts the seconds, but before the time is up, his lordship intervenes. “I think she likes it, Stefan. Thank you.”
Stefan breathes a sigh of relief and half-fills her glass. He then goes to the other side of the table and fills his lordship’s glass.
As Stefan places the bottle in a cooler on an adjacent table, he hears Lord Hamforth say, “Here’s to us, my dear!”
Ten minutes later, Stefan brings the bouillabaisse and serves it into two bowls.
“Bouillabaisse. We first had it on our honeymoon, Stefan. It’s been a favourite of ours ever since.”
When it looks as if they have had enough soup, Stefan removes the plates. “It was to your satisfaction, I hope, Sir, and your ladyship.”
“Oh, most definitely, Stefan. My wife wishes to send her compliments to Jean Claude.”
“Most certainly, your lordship. I know he will be very pleased.”
Stefan brings two plates of Daube, with ravioli for her and polenta for him.
“Oh, the aroma,” exclaims Lord Hamforth ecstatically, breathing in deeply and allowing his eyes to half-close for a fraction of a second. “It brings us right back to Toulon, does not it, my dear? You remember that little bistro just off the quays? Now, eat up, dearest. We don’t want Jean Claude to think we’re not appreciative of his culinary brilliance.”
Stefan pours a few more drops into Lady Hamforth’s glass. “Are you enjoying your meal, your ladyship?”
“Oh, indeed she is, Stefan. Thank you for asking. We could very well be in Aix itself, the Mediterranean air wafting in through the open door.”
Stefan quietly sniffs the air, but all he can discern is a slightly unpleasant odour of boiled fish, which has somehow escaped from the kitchen.
When he is aware that they are nearly finished, Clive approaches their table. “I hope you and her ladyship enjoyed the meal, Lord Hamforth.”
“Thank you, Clive. It was exquisite, was it not, my dear? Jean Claude has really excelled himself tonight.”
“He will be elated, I’m sure.”
“Now, would you be so kind as to get us our coats, Clive?”
“What? You are leaving so soon, your lordship. Won’t you stay for dessert? You must try Jean Claude’s latest creation.”
“Thank you, Clive, but I think not. Her ladyship is rather tired. She has been very silent tonight.”
Clive brings Lord Hamforth’s coat and helps him on with it.
As they approach the door, Lord Hamforth turns. “I wish to thank you for everything you’ve done for us. But we won’t be coming back next year. Her ladyship and I have agreed that enough is enough.”
“I’m so sorry to hear that, your lordship. We shall miss you.”
“Yes, indeed. And here is a small token of our appreciation.” Lord Hamforth discreetly thrusts a wad of notes into Clive’s hand. “It’s for all the staff, you understand.”
“Oh, yes, of course, your lordship.”
“Well, you’ll have to get over it quickly. We’re drowning in here.”
Clive suddenly feels awkward. He is going to have to improvise. “Well, it was a pleasure indeed to have you both. Good night, your Lordship.” Then, turning and bowing gracelessly, he adds, “And a very good night to you too, your ladyship.”
Clive stands and watches as they descend the steps to the waiting car. Bob is in attendance with the back door already open. He withdraws to allow her ladyship to get in but is visibly taken aback when his Lordship gets in instead.
Clive can just hear Lord Hamforth’s voice through the open door. “It’s all right, Bob. Her ladyship won’t be joining us again.”
Clive watches as the shiny Mercedes moves off into the night with a marked air of finality.
A wave of melancholy sweeps over Clive.
“Did it go all right?” says Jenny anxiously, sticking her head into the hall.
“Well, what are you looking so glum about? You look as if someone’s just died.”
“Who, for goodness sake?”
“Her ladyship? She’s been dead for eight years.”
“That’s what you think.”
“Well, you’ll have to get over it quickly. We’re drowning in here.” Jenny turns and hastily re-enters the dining room.
Like a tourist on a foreign beach, Clive stands in the hall, looking in at the sea of faces. He allows the waves of chatter and laughter to wash over him for a few moments before taking the plunge.
As he moves towards the dining-room door, he recites to himself, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their entrances and their exits and one man in his time….”
Ian Douglas Robertson is a graduate of Trinity College Dublin and has lived much of his life in Greece, where he works as a teacher, actor, translator and writer. He recently co-authored Larger Than Life (Karnac London) and Before You Let the Sun in (Sphinx) came out in May 2018. In Search of a Father’s Footsteps and other dramatherapy stories, his latest book will be published in August 2021.