Sunday Afternoon at the Internationales Berliner Bierfestival (2019)

Yesterday, Erica and I and our friends Gregor Gregorov and L. went to the 23. Internationales Berliner Bierfestival to see what it was all about.

The first thing you do when you go there is you buy a beer mug for €3.50. To fill up the mug it costs anywhere from €2.50-4.00 depending on the kind of beer you get, and there is a mile-long avenue of tents to choose from with beers from all over the world. The first beer I got was a brown ale from Scotland, which I quite liked. In fact, it was probably the best tasting beer I had all day because I made the mistake of choosing beers for their high alcohol percentage rather than for their prospective palette-pleasing qualities. My second was some kind of Kellerbier (cellar beer) which I liked not so much because of the way it tasted (not enough hops), but rather because it was served at a lower temperature than the others, and I was sweating in the afternoon sun. My third beer was Cannabis-ginger flavored. It didn’t get me high. Nor did it’s taste appeal to me. It was too sickly sweet, but I forced it down and afterwards stood in line at a little stand that was advertising Schwarzbier aus Böhmen (Trans: dark beer from Bohemia, i.e., the western part of the Czech Republic). Now when I got in line, I had only mentally absorbed the word Schwarzbier. Then I looked up at the sign again and read Schwarzbier aus Böhmen as Schwarzbier aus Bohnen. Now bohnen, in German, means beans, and suddenly it struck me that I was standing in line for a beer that was made from beans. I supposed it was possible since I’d just had a beer made with Cannabis, but bean beer wasn’t for me. I stepped out of line and said to Erica and the others, “I’m not buying a beer made from beans.” They all laughed.It’s Böhmen, not Bohnen, you idiot! Hahahah-bahah-hahha.” And they razzed me about it for the next half hour or so, bringing it up again and again.“I can see I’m never going to live this down,” I said. They laughed.

But then later something magical happened.

We were sitting at some picnic tables listening to a live cover band and drinking our beers when Gregor scurried off to the Porto-john. A few minutes later, on his way back, Erica spotted him beelining through the crowd, dodging, high-stepping, practically throwing people aside, a mix of fear and desperation in his eyes. He then reached our picnic table and as he was sliding into his seat he revealed the reason for his haste. There were two glorious wet puddles sopping the front of his trousers, due, apparently, to an accident or malfunction of some sort in the Porto-john. We all laughed, and as he hid his lower half under the table he tried to clarify, and philosophize, which only made us laugh more. I probably laughed the longest and the loudest of everyone. I actually feel ashamed about now. It’s not like I haven’t had my own bathroom malfunctions. True, they don’t often happen in public, at international beer festivals, and don’t often inspire me to bolt through a crowd of howling drunks, but I was trying to raise something to a higher pedestal of idiocy than my bean gaffe, and in the end I failed. I turned out to be the day’s crowned fool when the votes were cast.

The moral: humiliation is the greatest teacher of all. I will never again mistake the western part of the Czech Republic for beans.

 

Advertisements

Iguana Days

20190721_105226.jpg

I am back in Berlin after a three-week trip I took with my six-year-old son A. to Florida. I worked most of the time I was there, tending the equipment rental shop, but the first weekend I managed to get out for a little trip-within-a-trip to the Keys. I went down there with my son, my brother, his wife and their son, who is only a year older than mine. A. and I stayed in a little iguana infested hotel in Key Largo, but spent most of our time at my brother’s much nicer hotel and pool in Islamorada. We actually spent too much in his pool, but our kids loved it, and we didn’t feel like doing anything else. The July sun was too brutal and blazing. Besides, we had tumblers filled with lime and iced tequila. We’d brought our own booze so as not to get ripped off at the tiki bar and sat along the edge of the pool imbibing, watching the crowd of rednecks on the other side. There was about twenty of them I think, and from what I’d gathered they had come down for the weekend from somewhere between Vernon and Hell’s Half-Acre. The men were all very large, much larger than the tiny women they were with. They were built like potbellied air compressors, and sat most of the time bulky and stoic in the corner in their ten-gallon straw hats, and their blue-lensed sunglasses, drinking cans of light beer from a Yeti cooler someone had dragged in.

God bless America, and God bless you all!” shouted the singer of the one-man coverband. He then started playing a Toby Keith song, and the rednecks got both proud and boisterous. I watched them and thought about how similar they looked to each other, and how their thoughts, their range of emotions, their relationship to themselves, their surroundings and the culture were probably very similar too. The common denominator was practicality. Anything they deemed impractical, or weird, or foreign to their masculine sensibilities, was so far beneath contempt it was laughable.

There was one redneck in the pool who all the others seemed to crowd around and admire. He was about six-foot-two of hulking flesh, the obligatory broadbrimmed straw hat shading him, blue-tinted sunglasses, stubbly goatee. He had his big hairy sunburnt arms propped up on the ledge of the pool and was kind of leaning his head back while all around him the others formed a ring, hanging on his words as if he were The Floating Godhead of the Dry Tortugas.

I swam a little closer to hear what important statement he was imparting, imagining it to be some wise aphorism, a haiku or a Kierkegaardian soliloquy about the tongue-tied spirit.

Instead, I heard, “I sold that lot for two and a half.” That’s all.

He belched.

Then he reached into his Yeti cooler, cracked another light beer and poured it down his throat.

Italian Journey, Praiano to Naples (Day 4 of 4)

In Italy, there’s no such thing as truancy. If someone or something’s late it’s only because your expectations were too high.

On our last day, we had expected to get a bus from Praiano to Positano at 10:45 a.m., but it didn’t roll up until almost 11:30 a.m. Our plan had been to meet my sister and her husband for a little while before taking the next bus to Sorrento, but now we were so late, all we had time to do with them was walk down the hill to the bus stop. The bus there was scheduled to arrive at 12:30 p.m., and we got there with about ten minutes to spare. We waited. My sister and her husband waited with us. They had planned to see us off, but a half hour later, when the bus still hadn’t arrived, I told them not to worry about it. No need to waste their precious honeymoon time sitting at a bus stop. We said our goodbyes, and about fifteen minutes later our bus came tooling up. We got in, sat down. I noticed the digital clock next to the driver. It said it was 4:32 p.m. when it really was only 1:05 p.m. It was the second bus I’d been on on that trip that had a clock that was several hours off. There was something to be said for that attitude toward time. It was, after all, a human construct, and therefore open to interpretation. But we had a plane to catch, and a train to catch in order to catch the plane. The train was scheduled to leave Sorrento for Naples at 1:45 p.m. and there was no way we’d make that one now. We’d have to catch the next one which was scheduled to depart at 2:25 p.m.

Well, we arrived with plenty of time to spare for that one, but after boarding, the train just sat there in idle, brooding. It didn’t pull out of the station until close to 3 p.m. and by then we were seriously up tight about missing our flight, which was scheduled to depart from Naples at 5:15.

It was an old beast. A slow-moving beast. A crowded and airless and boiling hot beast, especially when it veered a little and the sun came through windows, pouring onto us.

It was a train straight out of Dante’s Inferno.

And every time it stopped at a station, there seemed to be a long delay, and you wondered if it was ever going to start up and get going again.
Then you’d hear a hum and a din and a roar. Then you’d hear the beep and the doors would close. Then there’d be another delay and you’d sit there with the sun burning the side of your face, your legs sweating on the leathery seat, your ears attuned to the incessant babble of Italian voices, your nose catching the occasional whiff of the grizzled old man in front of you, vapors rising off his skull.

It was 4:15 p.m. when we arrived at central station in Naples. We pushed through the crowds, made it outside and flagged down a cab. Our only chance to make our plane was to take a cab to the airport. We slid into the backseat and off we went, darting through the insane Neapolitan rush hour traffic, no one abiding to any law.

He turned around in his seat and started talking to us, gesticulating with both hands as he blew casually through red lights, dodged around corners and cut people off, missing them by mere fractions.

In Naples, it seems almost every car has a scrape or a dent or a ding on it. Some cars are riddled with them. His cab had a long scrape down the left side and the front bumper was partially crushed. Nevertheless, this modern-day Pulcinella got us to the airport without incident, a few minutes before our plane was scheduled to board. But that, of course, was before the delay.

The plane was apparently on Italian time too.

Italian Journey, Pompeii & Positano/Praiano (Day 3 of 4)

Pompeii looked nothing like the mental picture I had of it. I had envisioned city of dark and lava-buried, subterranean chambers, a kind of Hades on earth, alive with torch-lit shadows, sweltering mist, and gloom, and wandering Shades, the echoes of Cerebus ringing through the night as grim Charon glides across the River Styx on a ferry heavy with bones.

Instead, the city was almost completely exhumed and open to the light of day, the rows and avenues of windowless brick houses standing much like they did 20 centuries ago, though without their roofs and some crumbling here and there.

It was another torrid day. The sun felt like it was about 50 feet over our heads as we wandered among the ruins, trying to keep away from all the other tourists. Pompeii was a little like Disneyworld. Like everything these days, it had been commercialized, bastardized, and was so detached from its past, I was half-expecting Mickey Mouse to climb out of a crypt or vault somewhere and dance a jig. But maybe it was just the sun making me dizzy. Whatever the case, it was hard to be at one with your thoughts for any time out there, let alone appreciate in any real way the history and grandeur of that bygone city. It felt more like I was just going through the motions of being there rather than truly experiencing it, and no matter how hard I tried to imagine Pompeii in its heyday, its baths, its bustling marketplace, the forum, the theater, the foot races in the park on a Sunday afternoon, the moon gazing down on everything on some cold winter night in 2 B.C., I couldn’t quite tap in. Nevertheless, I got a faint impression of a thriving community of fruit-sellers, fish-salesmen, wine-growers, fresco artists, actresses, poets, soldiers, con men and fools, all of whom had dreamed and wept and laughed and struggled like us, all of whom left not single a trace behind, their stories having long since been written on the winds and scattered to the ether.

I didn’t care so much about the laws or what materials the Pompeii was made of, I wanted to know about the individuals. I wanted to know how they thought, what they said, how they looked and carried themselves. I wanted to know their personalities, their idiosyncrasies and all the things that made them human rather than just the abstract notions that they were in my mind.

Too bad there wasn’t a tool rental shop owner back then who’d left his tales on some buried old papyrus.

Well, maybe when Florida becomes the next Atlantis someone will find my words and become acquainted with the rats and Pulcinellas and bottom-feeders and other forgotten characters of that forgotten world.

*

The reason we took this spur of the moment trip was because my sister, who lives in Michigan, was having her honeymoon in Italy and we set it up so that we could meet up for one night, in Positano. Our hotel was in Praiano, the neighboring town. Positano was too expensive for our blood.

We arrived at the hotel just after 5 p.m. The hotel, which was on a cliff that overlooked the sea, had heaps of sweet-smelling climbing flowers growing all around it, falling off the roof, dangling from the balconies and swallowing everything up.

We checked in with the owner of the place, dropped our stuff in the room, and went up to the third floor veranda bar for the complimentary drink we were told about.

We ordered proseccos from the bartender who was the son of the owner. Family business. Both were extraordinarily friendly. We sat at a table from which we could see the rugged curve of the Amalfi coast, the deep blue sea down below, and in the distance, Le Sirenuse, the archipelago of little islands where the sirens of Homer’s Odyssey had sung so beautifully.

The view was so enchanting and sublime it felt like I was sitting in a postcard and I said as much to Erica. Unfortunately, we didn’t have much time to appreciate it. Just however long it took us to finish our drinks and then we would take a bus along the tall and winding Amalfi cliffs, back to Positano to meet my sister and her husband.

*

Apparently only a few hours before we met up with them, my sister found out she’d gotten a promotion at her job. I won’t say where she works, but it’s a company everyone’s heard of and with her promotion, she became treasurer and the first female vice president to ever work there. In financial terms it meant a raise of 10-15% from her former salary. It also meant she would be paying for Erica and me that evening. She offered. We couldn’t refuse. We didn’t want to be rude. Nor could we afford to be rude. The cocktails at the first place we went were $22, and at the restaurant a $75 bottle of red wine was ordered. The night overall brought to mind the David Lee Roth quote.

“Money can’t buy you happiness, but it can buy you a yacht big enough to pull up right alongside it.”

We were happy.

*

There was a problem getting back to the hotel that night. The bus that we thought would take us there at midnight was no longer running, or we somehow missed it. Something happened. There were no taxis either. We ended up calling the hotel and talking to the owner. He sent his daughter over to pick us up. It was apparently a service they provided. Still, we felt bad about bothering them so late at night. It was our only choice though. It was a long walk.

On the drive back to the hotel, I asked the daughter, who was no less cheerful and friendly than her father and brother, how they ended up in such a rare and wonderful place. The story was that her grandfather, who lived in an orphanage, had inherited the land that the hotel was on from an uncle, and built the property. Her father was born the day the hotel opened, which must have been in the early fifties, and took it over when her grandfather died. She and her brother were of course next in line, which seemed to me to be both a blessing and a curse. You couldn’t ask for a more enchanting place to work, and the property was probably worth several millions, But there was something about following the footsteps your father that always made me suspicious. How many people had there been who had never discovered their true calling or potentialities because they took the easy way by doing what their fathers did? If I had done the same, I’d probably be selling patio furniture today. True, selling patio furniture is nothing like tending a lovely, flower-enshrouded hotel on the Amalfi Coast. But even so, if you were restless like me, you’d have to stuff your ears with beeswax like Odysseus’ men so as not to hear the sirens of the islands nearby, forever tempting and alluring with their beautiful songs of escape.

Italian Journey, Naples (Day 2 of 4)

After breakfast the next morning, we walked through the city and along the waterfront, to the Castel dell’Ovo, or Egg Castle, the name coming from a legend about the Roman poet Virgil who was said to have put a magical egg into the foundations to support the fortifications. Had this egg been broken, the castle would’ve been destroyed and a series of disastrous events in Naples would have followed.

The view from the castle was breathtaking. In one direction, you could see Mount Vesuvius against an unearthly blue sky, a puff of white cloud ascending from one of its peaks. Down below was the curve of the bay, and behind us a panorama of the city. We stood there looking out but without much sense of what we were looking at, nor about what we were standing on. I tried to imagine the castle bustling with soldiers and knights. I tried to picture the kings and queens and courtly activities, the music, the ignored screams of the captives that had once been held here. The place was now just a shell of its former self. An ancient, salt-and-weather-beaten shell. A conch shell devoid of the conch, with its ear to the sea but no song left in its throat.

It’s spirit was gone. It’s zen-moment-in-time had been had.

We were standing on the crusty and discarded remains of some insane metagalactic historical machine that whirled forever onward, paying little heed to man’s meagre creations. The machine had us. All we could do was play our assigned roles, and thereby serve it, oiling its Kafkaesque gears and adjusting the cables as we were supposed to.

We stood in the shadows of the castle with the wind in our faces, watching the seagulls sail over the glistening rocks, the bright, ethereal-blue skies like something out of a Raphael painting.

The air around us seemed to be vibrating.

Vesuvius was alive, snorting in its depths. The gulf of Naples brooding with all its secrets and the buildings of the city slouching toward perdition.

Everything was waiting for a second coming. Axis mundi. The tiger with the slow moving thighs.

*

We went to Sorbillo on the waterfront for lunch and had a pizza that might possibly have been the best I’d ever had – pizza was invented in Naples, it’s a little better than Dominoes. We then got espressos at a popular little cafe near the Palazzo Reale, and walked the streets, taking in the sights and the people. I was looking for the omnipresent yet ever-elusive Pulcinella. Not the mythical one from the old plays. The modern-day embodiment of him. Pulcinella is described as the voice and direct expression of the Neapolitan people. A public servant, often lazy and careless, always humorous. I knew several of them in the States via my tool rental shop. Here, I looked for him among the waiters, the shopkeepers, the cab drivers, the house painters and so forth. But my time was so limited I wasn’t able to find him. It was now late afternoon, time to cool down at the hotel for a couple hours.

There’s an art to taking a vacation. The art is to never neglect relaxation time. I only had two days in Naples, which wasn’t nearly enough to see everything I wanted to see. Two weeks probably wouldn’t have been enough. But I had to somehow make do with what I had while not overexerting myself. When some people go to new places on limited time, they often spoil the event with the feeling that they need to see everything, eat everything, take photographs of everything, and be everywhere all at the same time or the trip is a bust. Not me. I learned long ago the value of the return to the dark room in a strange city as temporary reprieve from the mob.

Two hours later, we felt completely rejuvenated. It was dinnertime. We walked through the bustling, narrow little scooter-buzzing streets to a place called Pizzeria Da Attilio.

A bottle of red house wine. Another pizza that bordered on the transcendent, and a winding down of the night at a little cafe on Via dei Tribunali where we drank Limoncelli Spritzes and I sketched the Pulcinella that had been eluding me all day. Unfortunately, he’s eluding me again today. I have tried to upload the sketch several times but the internet has been slow all evening and it won’t take. That might be a good thing though because I’m not quite finished.

See you tomorrow for day 3 from Pompeii and Positano.

 

Italian Journey, Naples (Day 1)

It was a last-minute, 72 hour journey that began in Naples. We arrived on Sunday, June 16th, 2019. We arrived by easyJet in the middle of the day, the skies cloudless, the Italian sun beating down on Vesuvius, gleaming off the rooftops and palm trees and the Gulfo di Napoli. We took a bus from the airport to the central train station, and from there we walked on the shady side of the street to our hotel. It was about a twenty-minute walk, and on the way we passed crowds of migrants hanging out on the sidewalks, many of whom had little tables set up, or blankets laid out from which they were selling purses, or sunglasses, or cellphone cases, or basketball shoes of the most hideous colors and styles. Basketball shoes have never been more hideous-looking than in the present age. How people can wear them without being ashamed I have no idea, but many do. Some even wear them with pride. Some even murder for them. To me they represent some corruptive element in our society, much like plastic. Or Burger King. Or prosperity churches. Or Mark Zuckerberg. Nonetheless, these very same shoes, along these very same cellphone cases, purses and sunglasses were being sold from little makeshift hovels all over the city. It was as if every seller went to the same supplier who’d just imported the junk from the squalid bowels of China on some massive cargo ship. Was the supplier linked with the Camorra? I wondered. The mafia had their hands in everything in Naples, and had an especial fondness for trash.

So. It was Sunday afternoon, but there was no Sunday calm where traffic was concerned. The first thing I noticed was the sheer number of motor scooters tearing through the streets. They’d buzz by you like deranged and maddened insects, dodging around the cars and buses, blowing through stoplights and zebra crossings, honking, revving their little 50cc engines, moving together in twos and sixes and eights, whipping around corners only to be replaced with new hordes coming from different directions in doubly aggressive manifestations.

As for the architecture, many of the buildings on our walk looked more like ruins, ancient, crumbling, unpainted with colorful laundry strung up outside the windows, a wedge of blue sky above, with the occasional old lady perched on some balcony, peeping down at you from eight floors up, her head the size of a raisin.

Erica had a grim first impression of the city which was no doubt exacerbated by the baking sun and the fact that she was hungry and all the restaurants were closed because it was the day of the Lord. Erica was one of those people who needed her three squares at precisely the same time everyday or she’d start getting moody. My moods, on the other hand, weren’t tied to the missing of one meal. I’d missed so many in my life, I welcomed the feeling of an empty belly sometimes. It was like an old friend. It gave fresh perspective. It inspired contemplation and the poetry that arose therefrom. I tried to explain this to Erica but she didn’t want to hear it. She just wanted to be crabby, which made me crabby, and soon I was more than crabby. I was livid. I can’t handle crabby people without reacting. I take it personally. But I bit my tongue and stewed and finally we stumbled upon our hotel.

The hotel, or bed and breakfast to be more precise, was on the 5th floor of a high-rise that must have been about 100 years old. It had smooth marble floors, a marble staircase, black, wrought-iron railings and a coffin-sized elevator in a shaft where all the pulleys and chains and wheels were clattering and visible.

We took the stairs up. We rang the bell. A dark-haired woman of about sixty answered with a smile and greeted us in Italian. As it turned out, she didn’t speak a word of English and we didn’t speak Italian. We pantomimed to each other, and were led down the hallway to the Pino Daniele-themed room. Every room in the place had a theme. The one next to us was Sofia Loren. The one down the hall was Pulcinella. Another was Billy Pasta, famous tightrope walker and telemarketer from the 1930s. So they say.

Pino Daniele, I was to find out, was a Neapolitan singer-songwriter and guitarist, and in our room, there were eighteen of his album covers of in miniature form hanging in little frames on the wall. The album covers went back to the late 70s or 80s when he was the picture of health, with his toothy smile and huge and glorious lion’s mane. He kept the mane from when it was from black to salt-and-pepper to almost pure white, though even then it was still thick and beautiful and he was still the picture of health. Then,ard the end of his career, he cut it off, no doubt the biggest mistake he’d ever made. It was like Samson cutting off his hair. There was nothing for him to draw power from anymore. In the photos of him with this new hair he looked wan and bloated and there was a sad foreboding in his eyes. It was as if he knew that cutting off the fleece was a fatal error and he would soon have to pay the debt.
I tried to figure out the rest of his story from the album covers, but that’s as far as my imagination took me.
I then looked Pino Daniele up online and found out he had died of a heart attack in 2015 at age 59.
I then listened to a song of his on YouTube and it was flat, uninspired. A total nothingburger.
Had to be his later stuff.

*

Erica’s cheerful mood came around later that day, after she’d gotten the missing square in her belly, and after we’d cooled off in the ancient aqueducts under the city. The tour lasted about an hour and a half, after which we got pasta and beer and a local trattoria. Then we sat a little cafe on a bustling little street drinking Aperol Spritzes and limoncelli shots. The drinks were great and the waiter’s English was perfect until it was time to pay the bill.
“I’m giving you 13,” I said.
“Huh?”
I repeated myself. He looked at me confused.
“Here’s 20, bring me back 7 por favore.”
“Si, si…” he said.
He trotted off and came back with 5. But by the time I realized it he was nowhere to be found and when he did return, he passed our table but didn’t dare look over. That’s when I noticed his shoes for the first time. He was wearing basketball shoes, the same ones the migrants sold out of canvas bags all over the city. The ones that had come from the squalid bowels of China.
Poor sod.
I let him keep the 2.

a sketch & a poem

Sanctuary for Sinners

You must confess, there’s not much here.
Just a couple of chestnut trees,
a few potted flowers, a vine-covered statue
of Cupid,
and the light of dusk
making everything glow.

You stand in the glow, the light slithering
up your shins, another one pouring
into your heart.

Only the second light is real.
And in the warmth of its rays
there lay the refrains of some hidden
orchestra, the delicate murmuring
of plums,
of cold summer rain,
of the beggar’s cup filling with pearls
of water
and poured out into in the dirt.

There’s not much here,
you must confess.
Only presence, only emptiness.
Only light and wind to make you invisible.

This is where
Narcissus tears out his eyes
and discovers a strange and profound
inward-looking one.

This is the delirium of falling away.

___________________________________

(The sketch above is of the late Captain Kirk, a former mechanic of mine, as Pan)…

A Desperate Character

A Desperate Character

I had become a baby sitter of illiterate,
inveterate drunkards, of crackheads, of men with strong backs
and low foreheads
and weak minds. I had become the smell of exhaust
fumes and cheap tobacco smoke.
A broken-down lawnmower, a severed head gasket,
oil drums, cracked piston rings, flyshit in the carburetor
of a 2-cycle leaf blower
had become me.
I was a burglar alarm at 3 a.m., the jarring sound
of a telephone on Friday afternoon,
the collective sigh
of the people in my small town, their jeremiads,
their habits and obtuse convictions,
their sad obituaries.

Sixty hours a week for sixteen years, I had become
institutionalized. I had created a Frankenstein.
I would think about the grand discourse
of the universe and all its galaxies. I would dream
about red dwarfs,
about gamma ray bursts, the asteroid belt,
the oceans of the earth,
monochrome rainbows, volcanoes, rain forests,
The Great Barrier Reef,
Prague, London, Venice.

Did it all exist
for me to sit incarcerated
in some anonymous little shop
in some anonymous little town playing the anonymous
little merchant,
a role I knew in my heart I’d been wrongly cast for?

Well, I thought. If this is my destiny,
I reject it. I reject my life. I will give my life back.
I will jump
off the Seven Mile Bridge, I will gargle rat poison.
Whatever it takes I will do it,
but I will not stay here. I will not live a disingenuous
life with a dying heart
because I am afraid,
because it is safe to be afraid,
because being flyshit in the carburetor of a 2-cycle
leaf blower somehow suits me.

No, I thought, I’m going to be a red
dwarf, that’s what I’ll be.
And with that, I washed my hands of everything,
got on a plane
bound for Berlin
and became one.

The Street Musician

20190501_140116.jpg

I’ve seen them so many times, I no longer see the birds or the trees, the lampposts, the cobblestones, the flowers or the parked cars. I walk along in a daze. I walk among the people and look at their faces, but do not see them either. It’s as if I’m half-blind, or half-sleepwalking, my feet carrying me along, my mind only half-understanding the force impelling me. I enter a street market and the sidewalk narrows and the crowd thickens. There are people here selling fruit, vegetables, kabobs, fish, jewelry, textiles and odds and ends and they are laughing, and they a singing and shouting to draw people to their stands. But their noise goes through me and the jostle of the crowd stifles me, sucking me in and we drift along amid oranges and pomegranates, conch shells, oriental rugs, sunlight beating through the tents, the hoarse snatches of a violin gliding on the breeze. When I get to the edge of the market, I see that it’s a humpbacked old Balkan woman playing. She is wearing a purple headscarf, her dress is a patchwork of blues and oranges and limegreens, and at her feet there is a leather violin case, open with loose change scattered on the floor of it. Her eye floats toward me as I approach, she gives a tender smile, and keeps playing, the music whirling in circles around her, grazing the birds and the trees, the cobblestones, the parked cars, giving life to the flowers and the people. I dig in my pocket. I have no change. I have nothing. I shrug. She gives me a forgiving smile and her eye floats in another direction, her impassioned bow continues working, the music following me as I cross the street, walk two blocks, take a right, walk another two blocks, cross another street, unlock a door, go through a courtyard and return to my flat, and return to my desk. I can still hear her music as I write this.

20190501_140114.jpg

Journey to the End of the Night

680px-Ernst_Ludwig_Kirchner_Elisabethufer_1913-1

Journey to the End of the Night

With a bottle of Belgian beer, I sit among pigeon
feathers and broken black branches and a choir
of darkening leaves, the murky Landwerkanal
gliding past my feet, the choppy ripples reflecting
aureoles of green and amber patches and the flat
white of a solitary swan floating silently through
the mists.

I watch it pass, watch the clouds eat
a maple tree and the Ferris wheel and the purple
geese and I watch the remaining fragments
of the sun as night comes and places a shadow
upon me. I am not supposed to be here.
I am standing on the wrong continent. I am following
the wrong orchestra. I have strayed from the people.
I am not supposed to be here.

And yet here I am,
half-drunk, my mind ecstatic, my heart torn apart
by golden
salamanders by the glittering
pallet knife of some mad expressionist
painter. In a word, by love.
I sit listening
to carnival music carried over the waters.