Now the summer has started for real, Writer’s Block would once more like to put the winners of our three competitions in the spotlights. Once again, congratulations!
After many meetings and careful deliberation we decided, together with the two jury members (Dr Jane Lewty and Dr Rudolph Glitz), that the poetry prize should go to Christian Greer for his “Morimoto-san.” Furthermore, two other competitors deserve credit by giving them an honorable mention for their outstanding poems: “Conversation at Night” by Claudia Daiber and “Asperger in Love” by Maarten van Lummel, to be read in WB #18.
– The WB Editorial Board
The winning entry honours all the precepts of a haiku (in terms of line, syllables, and sound units) and certainly achieves the objective of this classic poetic form—to encapsulate a distinct moment, firstly in time and secondly within the sonic and literal abeyance of the white page. Here, we have tiny shards that blur into a single moment of dispassionate reflection, a whirring frenzy of masochism that settles into a dreamlike observation. Most impressively is how the subject mimics the act of writing itself, the violence of inscription and how a single stroke made by a pen or stylus can lapse into over-scoring and laceration. The audience of the poem looks at another audience who misreads a situation; beauty becomes horror and vice versa. This poem deftly and vividly renders the process of error, ironically through a masterful and controlled process.
– Jane Lewty
With a 200 yen box cutter
Mr. Morimoto cut himself to ribbons
it looked like he was dancing
by Christian Greers
For the translation competition the competitors were assigned to translate a short excerpt from Allerzielen by Cees Noteboom as best as they could, that is, by creating a readable text that is faithful to the meaning and style of the original. The two jury members, Dr Imogen Cohen and Dr Theodor Harmsen, awarded the first prize to Marjolijn Huiberts for her excellent English translation of Noteboom’s passage. Although it has some “surprising word choices,” according to Harmsen, it also had “some good solutions” and was rated as a very “promising” translation. Read the winning submission below.
– The WB Editorial Board
Just a few moments after he walked past the bookstore, Arthur Daane realised that a word had stuck to his mind, and that he had already translated that word into his own language, making it sound less dangerous than it did in German. He wondered whether the final syllable was responsible for that. Den, a strange, short word, not nasty and tart like certain other short words, but rather reassuring. Somewhere you could keep yourself safe, or where you would stumble upon something hidden. Other languages didn’t have such a word. He tried to get rid of the word by walking faster, but that didn’t work anymore, not in this city, which was drenched with it. It continued to stick to him. He had that with words, lately. Sticking was the right word for that matter; they stuck to him, and they resonated. Even when he didn’t say them out loud, he heard them. Sometimes they actually seemed to reverberate. As soon as you unravelled them from the sentences in which they were embedded they take on, if you were sensitive to this, something frightening; a freakishness you didn’t want to think about or else your whole world would start to shift. Too much spare time, he thought, but that was just how he wanted his life to be. In an ancient textbook he once read about ‘the Javanese’, who, whenever he had earned a shilling, would sit under a palm tree. In those bygone days, you could apparently get by on a shilling forever, because, according to the story, the Javanese only went back to work when his shilling was spent. A crying shame, the booklet said, because that’s not the way to a get ahead in life, but Arthur Daane had decided to agree with the Javanese.
by Marjolijn Huiberts
This is a beautifully crafted and moving story about a difficult topic: aging and death. The author manages to structure and balance the piece perfectly, while creating a considerable impact in the form of a deeply moving and personal “sting in the tail”. In short, this story leaves the reader with plenty of food for thought through a compelling meditation on the meaning of life, death and longing.
– Joyce Goggin
Where Nothing Ever Happens
Dead people were laughing on the television. Their guffaws and snickers, canned somewhere in the early sixties, reverberated on the walls of our country-style kitchen. The jubilant hysterics were reduced to ominous moans through its singular walls. Nobody was alarmed. Dead people or not, it all comes down to the same thing: sound. Vibrations.
All life is made of noises. I should know. I hear voices every night before I fall asleep. You got to excuse me for making this sound more severe than it actually is. Most of my night-time visitors are remarkably benign. Marilyn Monroe sings me birthday songs. Anne Frank whispers secrets in my ear. Franz Kafka thinks my eyes are beautiful. Even Bette Davis agrees. Though I realise how ridiculous it is to be flattered by people who do not exist outside of pictures, I consider them my dearest friends. It are their words that triumph the din of mundane life, that force my fears into nothingness.
Caroline is blasting The Sugarcubes in her room upstairs. The strange lyrics, sung with a strong Icelandic accent, slither down the stairs like a wailing spectre. Caroline had just turned fifteen, and at her age it was common to appreciate music of a generation other than your own. In her case, that of the early nineties. Caroline may be impressionable, but she is a good kid. I wish I could tell her about my bedtime conversations, but she wouldn’t understand. Caroline dabbles in the world of the living; I spelunk in the abyss of the dead.
The night air is cool as it slips through the crack of my window. Mom and Dad are still watching television downstairs. I lie in bed, facing the ceiling. Brown blotches taint its flaking surface. My heaven is rotten. How could it be any different, with so many souls ascending to the skies every day. The putrid stains are like a silent foreboding. Like the smell of old people’s houses. Stuffier than hospitals, but still the clinical scent of a death knell. A place inhabited by people with skin like parchment and nitroglycerin pills in their pockets. Just a small fright away from a heart attack, the end always looming near.
When my grandmother died, my parents and I took care of her belongings. Caroline was too young to accompany us at the time, so she stayed with my aunt for the weekend. Mom equipped me with a pair of gloves and a garbage bag, and commanded me to throw away everything that couldn’t be sold on Craigslist. At the time, this seemed a strange request from someone who just lost the one who gave her life. Of course, now I know that people have their own ways of coping with loss. For Mom, it was the destruction of any evidence that she once had a mother of her own. Drastic, but acceptable. With the open garbage bag trailing behind me like a plastic shadow, I traversed the staircase and did my best to heed my mother’s request. I entered the bathroom, where I perused my grandmother’s toiletries. These seemed particularly useless to me as no one cares for second-hand sundries, so out went the toothbrush, the hand-mirror, the half-empty bottle of Coco Mademoiselle. A small stub of red lipstick was spared this tragic fate and slipped into my pocket as a prize. I was a scavenger hunting for treasure. Unlike my mother, I refused to annihilate the living memory of the dead.
The stains in my ceiling, they’re products of that same philosophy. They give my room character. When it rains, small droplets collect in a ridge to form larger drops that fall down on my face as I sleep. I do not mind them – it feels like dead souls are crying with laughter at my bedside, amusing themselves with my juvenile dreams. I prefer their laughter over the canned kind from the television any day. In fact, I consider myself lucky to be in their presence. Many people would gladly die for someone at their side every night.
Caroline turns off her stereo. A mild thump, the result of her ritual jump on the bed before sleep , and I know the last of living noises has ceased for this night. My heart swells in my chest but the organ is mute, and I am not sure if I am alive or dead. I wonder about this a lot. Yesterday I felt the skin on the back of my hands and noticed they weren’t as smooth as they were a few years ago. They felt dry and cracked, like those of my grandmother as she lay in her coffin. I remember stroking them softly before they lowered the lid. The smoothness was replaced by an almost reptilian roughness, and I realised I had begun to age somewhere along the line and that from now on everything would be one decline after another. Such is life, Grandma would have said. Only she did not say that. She was throbbing in the earth somewhere with all my former goldfish and guinea pigs.
Maybe they aren’t coming tonight. The voices, I mean. Maybe they never were here in the first place. I guess that must be Death’s idea of an awkward silence. She has an odd sense of humour. I should know. When I came down the stairs after filling my garbage bag with dental floss and hairspray, I noticed Mom silently crying in the hallway. She was clutching a gilded baby shoe with pink laces. But when she turned around to face me, she was smiling as if someone had just told her a charming anecdote. Something I could not hear. I guess sometimes being dead is just that. Silence. A story saved for another life.
I focus again on the ceiling. The stains look darker tonight. For a minute I think I hear something, then I realise it is just the wind rustling my curtains. I resume my normal heart rate. Perhaps they are not coming tonight. It would not be the first time the living were ignored by the dead. Thousands of prayers are launched from churches worldwide on a daily basis, but none ever receives a reply. Funny. I draw the sheets up to my shoulders and wonder where my friends have gone. I fantasise about Marilyn and Anne distorting radio signals with their literary discussions. I hear Kafka cracking jokes to a colony of cockroaches. They all think it’s hilarious. Even Bette Davis agrees. I let out a chuckle before my eyelids start to flutter, and I know that I am drifting towards sleep. My 17 16
friends will be fine. The dead go on living in ways we cannot fathom. A lady on the news said her late husband contacts her every evening around supper. The phone rings twice and she is never on time to get it, and when she dials return she gets the number of her husband’s old cell phone. His voice-mail tells her that she cannot reach him right now, but that he will be sure to call her back if she left him a message. She says she misses him, and puts down the receiver. Then she returns to the potatoes boiling on the stove.
None of this is cause for alarm. We expect the dead to come back to us. We accept ghosts as a legitimate possibility. The idea that our loved ones have dispersed into nothingness is much harder to process. So we invent rituals, we light candles after Sunday service, we burn incense at our window. We keep pictures in our wallets. The dead always smile at us when we pay for our morning coffee. Because unlike them, we do keep on living. We wake up every day and we go on. We need those pictures to remember their faces. Maybe I think of my grandmother before I fall asleep because I do not want to lose her a second time. They say the first time is always the hardest, but I beg to differ. It is the decay that hurts.
Look at your hands. Notice how they are not smooth like they were before. Look at them again tomorrow. Keep this up for a year or so. Think about me when you see the flakes forming. When you start to fall apart. Remember that wallets get stolen all the time. Nothing lasts forever. You are not exempt from this fact. Sleep tight.
by Nadia de Vries