After watching a great ARTE documentary on Caspar David Friedrich the other night, I was inspired to sketch a couple of his paintings. He apparently had the same love of graveyards and gloomy weather that I do.
I’ve never lived in one place for more than 8 years, and it’s been 7 years since I moved into the apartment I’m living in now. The apartment is in the Neukölln borough of Berlin, in an area full of kebab shops, Indian restaurants, vintage clothing stores, vegan cafes, shisha bars and rundown little Kneipen. It’s one of the most multicultural places in the world and a haven for hipsters, tourists, junkies, street musicians, artists and immigrants like myself. Germans live here too, believe it or not. But when you go out in the streets, you hear Spanish, Italian, Arabic, Turkish and English being spoken almost as much as you hear German. It’s a terrible place for learning German. But luckily, I’ve managed to get a decent hold on the language, good enough anyway that when I have a conversation with a German I can talk about other things besides my favorite things.
Anyway, in January I will be moving from here to a borough that I’d never visited let alone heard of until recently. The borough is called Schöneweide, and it’s part of the old East, full factory buildings and shacks and apartments and a disparate agglomeration who knows what? It much less multicultural than where I am now. Out there, you hear almost no English. Out there, it’s Deutsch everywhere you go which I find most refreshing. Less refreshing is the large number of crusty old bigots and xenophobes who supposedly live out there. But that species is dying or being pushed out I believe. We shall see.
My apartment is on a small street that runs between the river and the S-Bahn. It’s a quiet street. The S-Bahn is electric so you can hardly hear it and there’s not much traffic, only a few pedestrians here and there and almost nothing in the way of cafes or restaurants. There is a bar though, as I found out the first time I went to explore the area. I discovered the bar via a shaggy old graybeard in a wheelchair. He was wheeling his chair along the sidewalk a little in front of me, and just when I stepped on the cobbles to go around him, he looked across the street and wailed, “Ela!” Ela was apparently the lady standing in front of the bar over there, which happened to be called Ela’s Kneipe. “Eeeeelllla!” he shouted. “Eeeeellllaaaa, mein Liebling! Mein Schatz!”
I kept walking. Past some apartment buildings, past the Kleingartenkolonie and stood in front of my future apartment looking up at the balcony. Then I went further down the street to do more investigations. The first thing I found out is that the street gets more bizarre and Lynchian the further you go. Across from my apartment, there’s a tennis club. Next to that there are soccer fields for the FC Union Nachwuchs (upandcomers). Further down on that same side of the street, there’s a factory and some boating clubs and some other clubs. They all stretch back to the river, and on the other side of the street there’s a defunct used car dealership, a dog hotel, warehouses, factory buildings, and a lot of other weird and unidentifiable buildings, some that were used in WWII for slave labor.
I was walking by one of the weird and unidentifiable buildings when I saw him plunked smack dab in the center of the street. A monster of a man, a 500 lb. colossus sitting in a megawide wheelchair. The wheelchair was so wide you could fit three or four normal-sized humans in it, and it wasn’t moving. It was sitting deadnuts on the hump in the middle of the street with the man squeezed into it like a dress that’s two sizes too small. Beside him stood a thin man, and when I strolled past them, I heard the colossus telling the thin man, “Ich bin ein chronischer Alkoholiker,” or “Ich bin kein chronischer Alkoholiker.” He either was or wasn’t a chronic alcoholic, but it seemed to me he was blaming his Twilight Zone-worthy predicament on booze rather than food.
I kept walking. Into an idyllic little forest area that went down to the river and along the river and came out near the bridge. I explored that area for a little while, and about a half hour later, came back to my street only to see that massive human shipwreck still aground in the very same place. He was alone now. I quickly walked past him. There was nothing I could do to help him. What he needed was a towing service to come out. I took the sidewalk in the shade of the trees and got about 10 minutes up the road when the old graybeard in the wheelchair started hollering at me like I was Ela. He wanted help. He demanded it. He wanted me to wheel him somewhere up the street in the direction from which I’d come.
Ok, I thought. I’ll be the good Samaritan.
I grabbed the handles of his wheelchair and began pushing. “How much further?” I asked in German.
He grumbled something into his beard. I didn’t understand. Even if it were English I wouldn’t understand. I kept pushing. “How much further?”
Again, he grumbled something. A green nimbus of boozefumes rose from his shirt and beard. Must’ve been drinking at Ela’s. I kept pushing. “Now how much further?” He said we were getting close, but it felt like I’d been pushing him for miles, mostly because there was no conversation, though he was chatting plenty into his sternum. I thought about running him up on the sidewalk. “Ich muss gehen. Der Zug fährt.” But again he assured me we weren’t very far.
I pushed. Almost all the way back to our shipwrecked friend, then reached his apartment finally. I dropped him off at the elevator. “Dank schön!” he said and wheeled himself drunkenly into it.
That was the first time I came to explore the street.
I have since been three times, and not once have I seen the shipwreck in the megawide wheelchair. But every time I have seen my old graybeard friend. The first time I saw him sitting at the busstop. The second time I saw him begging the soccer youths to wheel him back to his apartment. The third time, while I was up in my apartment taking measurements, I saw him whisk past the window at a freakishly rapid clip. Phaeton couldn’t have gone so fast if he were being dragged by the fiery Pyrois. But the old graybeard wasn’t being dragged or pushed by anything. He doing it all himself, arms whirling, wheels half off the ground. It was morningtime and he was on his way to Ela’s.
This is the second of my two poems that were published recently in The Columbia Review. Enjoy!
I never can be alone
on this train this train
hurling this train southward
pouring through an eyebrow
of fog and space and shadows
like dragon’s tongues
This train I can never
never never be alone on
but tonight in spirit I am
alone with the severed
moonbeam on my lap
and you and you
A cathedral vanishes.
Pink mist clings
to an electric billboard.
The cabin is dreaming.
The air is fat
with disembodied voices
The train is an enormous Egyptian
through the city,
eyes glowing like TV screens,
the night roaring in its wake
Trying to get back to you
but unable to escape
this maddening Teufelskreis.
All I do
is go round, the moonbeam
on my lap becoming
a dogeared copy
of The Divine Comedy, the song
in my ear our song
whose words I can’t
remember. I can’t even
remember when I boarded
nor who I was when
I did. I only know my heart.
I only know as it leans upon your ghost
The eastern light trots
out on feeble legs.
The sky has a diamond luster.
A woman is soaked
The train isn’t even stopping
at the stations anymore.
The train is mad-eyed.
The Ringbahn is a snake locking
its jaw around its tail.
I wait for a miracle.
We pass under dragon’s tongues.
I lean upon your ghost
I’ve just have a couple of poems published in The Columbia Review, the oldest college literary journal in the US. Here is one of one of them. Enjoy!
It’s the witching hour in Berlin, hour of pink
moons and migrating shadows, when the trains
are sleeping, when the kebab shops
are closed, when the only way home
is through the backend of a sex toy
shop and a blighted Bulgarian graveyard.
Wandering among crumbled tombstones
under fetal thickening clouds, my shoes eaten
by goat-shaped shadows and muffling
the laughter of the dead.
The dead are laughing because they are dead
and they know. A whole village of knowing
witching hour Bulgarians
laughing quietly and dead as the roots
of the grass argue with the worms
and the worms berate the church and the church
castigates a crow and the crow shouting
at the sun that sticks its purple fingers
through the trees and touches
me between the shoulderblades,
reminding me why the dead are laughing.
It’s been ages since I posted on here, but I haven’t disappeared completely yet. I’ve just been busy with 8 million other things, one of them being marriage to this beauty,
another being this bumbling half-hour interview I did for the Goethe Institut. Check it out if you have some time.
I just had this poem published the other day in Resurrection Mag, and here is a sketch of the building my business used to be in. We recently sold the building to the city, so I figured I better sketch it before it gets demolished. So many stories in this place.
I think sometimes about my old customers.
The ones who died young.
There were so many of them: painters, roofers,
landscapers, handymen. Salts
of the earth.
Some had been coming into my shop
for decades, always with the sense
that it would go on like that forever,
the two of us – shopkeeper and customer –
Sisyphus and Tantalus playing our little roles
in our mutual little corner
of hell, impervious
to any profound or meaningful life changes.
But then one day,
you’d hear it
2nd or 3rd hand: R. had a massive heart attack
while sealing a customer’s driveway;
B. died of throat cancer; F. overdosed on painkillers;
carbon monoxide got P.
One after another they peeled away,
most of them leaving very little behind,
just a few meager possessions,
a handful of memories
and a reminder of what precarious
ground we all stand on.
I think sometimes about my old customers.
I think about them the way I think about
how the sun would pour into the shop
in the early mornings,
filling the room with bouncing light,
and a feeling
of something glorious yet incomprehensible
contained within it, something that hung
suspended in the air
for about a half-hour or so,
then poured out through the southern windows,
as though it had no business
I think sometimes about my old customers.
I think about how they
were too good
for what little
lives they were granted.
My mom, who has dementia and has been looking through old photos to help her remember the past, came across the one below which I don’t remember taking but must’ve somewhere between 2000 and 2002. It’s of my former mechanic, a madman and raging alcoholic named Kevin Wagner who I’ve written about in several different places, and have even drawn a few times. The drawing above is my best one yet because I finally had a photo to work off of, but the others weren’t bad. His features are still ingrained in my head along with a horde of strange and mortifying memories.
Kevin Francis Wagner (1963-2010)
A skinny, humpbacked mechanic
with a shaved head
and a scar under his eye from the blade of a hedgetrimmer,
and false teeth.
His wife just left him
for a woman in Pennsylvania,
for three days.
He’s been drunk on warm Budweiser,
pacing the floors
of his efficiency off Federal Highway,
Denny’s and the Golden Sands Inn.
When I go there to visit him,
on his tweed sofa,
looking up at the ceiling.
He claims he’s seen angels.
I notice the drywall
near the kitchen
where he put his fist through.
On the coffee table next to him, there’s an open bottle
of screw-top Sherry,
and the dill pickle jar he’s drinking it out of.
in the mornings, he says.
I gave her everything, he tells me.
a nice place,
VCR. And this is what she does?
He climbs up off the sofa and goes into the kitchen
and comes back
with a pickle jar for me.
Everything! he shouts.
I gave her
He collapses on the sofa.
Then he shows
me the tattoo
on his shoulder. CARLA,
in blue cursive, with a pinkish outline.
On his other shoulder, there’s a pigmy date palm
with the word
He used to be in the tree-trimming business
until his first wife took everything from him.
This Sherry isn’t bad,
Then I notice the violin case in the corner.
Been a while,
Lets hear it.
He gets up off the sofa, limps to the corner,
opens the case,
the bow, puts the violin
chin and begins.
And to my surprise,
he plays very well.
The music floats
around his efficiency.
It goes out the front door,
drifts over the lawn,
and the bougainvillea,
and the palm trees,
and the colorful clothes on the clotheslines
all seem to
rejoice in it.
The song lasts about five minutes,
and then when he’s done,
he puts violin and bow neatly back in the case,
sits down to his Sherry,
and I ask him more about the angels he has seen.
This poem was just published in Wrongdoing Magazine’s amazing inaugural issue. Truly one of the most beautifully put together art/poetry magazines I’ve ever been published in. You can check out the whole issue here.
It’s been ages since I last posted anything here. The reason: I have been consumed… no, that’s not the right word… I have been possessed, literally and figuratively, by my artistic endeavors. This all started very early in the year and has left me almost no time to write, let alone blog… but I’ll get back to it. I always do.
In the meantime, if you’re on Instagram, you can follow me at: https://www.instagram.com/mppowers1132/
Or just check out my some of my sketchbook drawings. I’m trying to do one every day.
On another note, I just got back to Florida the other day. I’ll be here until July doing what I always do when I’m here: renting equipment and swimming as often as possible. I’ll also be drawing a lot of palm trees and iguanas and scissor lifts and I might even fit in a few poems. Here’s one about something I love in South Florida: the clouds.
I had become a babysitter
of men with strong backs and weak
crackheads, sad sacks, village idiots.
I had become the smell of secondhand
and cheap tobacco smoke.
A brokendown lawnmower,
a blown head gasket, dusty oil drums,
rings, flyshit in the carburetor port
of a 2-cycle leaf
blower had all become me.
I was a burglar alarm at
3 a.m., the jarring sound of a telephone
afternoon, the collective sigh
of the people in my small
town, their harangues and jeremiads,
their habits and
obtuse convictions, their unwritten obituaries.
hours a week for sixteen years,
I had become
I had created a Frankenstein for a
I kept getting deeper into it
and with each
downward revolution the pain
of longing for distant
unknown places – Japan, Germany, Ireland –
became that much more acute.
But it was the clouds,
the clouds above my shop
that gave the sweetest
feeling of heartache.
massive purple whales
swimming over the rooftops
and palm trees.
To watch them in the morning light
so detached and tumbling
taking on the golden light of the sun
carried off on some fantastic
To watch them do magic
it done to them
as I stood amid the noise of angle
grinders & air compressors,
laughter of half-drunk small engine
mechanics riding up my back –
there was something so
about the clouds.
A poem of mine that was originally published at Gutter Eloquence, and then here, is now up at Eunoia Review.
This poem is a whore; it loves getting around, so I will post it again here:
I was the last one on what I thought was the right bus.
I asked the driver to make sure. He said something
that in English sounded like “crossing.” The only problem
was he was speaking German,
and I’d just taken up the language. I asked him again.
He scratched his forehead just above his nose.
He repeated himself angrily. I still didn’t understand.
I tried to simplify. “Sooo, Leipzig?”
“Ja, ja…” he said.
I sat down a few seats behind him.
I kept an eye on him in the rearview mirror.
Above his head there was a digital clock with red numbers.
It was 6:03. At 6:05 the bus was scheduled to depart.
At 6:04 he grabbed the top of the steering wheel
with both hands
and peered at the door with his sharp vulture’s eye.
At 6:04 and about 30 seconds he began pummeling
the gum that was in his mouth,
his jaw working more furiously than ever.
6:05. BANG! He slammed the door shut, pumped the gas,
went tearing around the bend.
I looked out the window. There was a guy running
alongside the bus, his necktie streaming
over his left shoulder, a briefcase banging against his leg,
one arm frantically waving.
He kept a pretty good pace with us all the way
to the end of the parking lot,
but then we took a sharp left onto the main road.
He was a couple seconds late.