Monday, June 26, 2006



a short story


S. Francis Pringle






Yes, this was the year the Springboks won the Rugby Union World Cup. Lifting his glass, a rugby enthusiast in a Capetown pub expressed the nation’s view: “Damn, and we bloody well could have won it all in ’87 and ’91  . . . if they would have let our team play. Just because a country tries to keep its niggers in their proper place is no reason to ban their teams from competition. The bloody niggers never give a damn for the game anyway; they all want to be footballers, or the uppity ones try a go at cricket.” The 60,000 plus fans in the stadium did give a damn, however.




The loudspeakers blared the home teams national anthem during injury breaks.


Wearing a Springbok’scaptain’s shirt, the head of state visited the home team’s dressing room just before the match began and exhorted: “This game is not just in pursuit of victory, but a national crusade.”


Overhead, a jumbo jet from the national airline circled the stadium at rooftop height, a giant-sized good luck message to the Springboks lettered on the underside of its wing.




Standing in the shade of the shanty house he shared with his mother and grandparents, Mulo squinted at the huge airplane banking low in the bright sky, its wing tips seeming to almost touch the ground. There was writing on the underside of the wing. He could see it clearly, but did not know what it said. Although Mulo was nine years old, he could not read. He had never been to school, not even for one day.


“Momma . . . why is the great airplane flying so near to the ground?”


His mother did not know, nor did anyone else among the groups of people who had come out of their jerry-built shacks to watch.


Mulo loved airplanes. Three years ago Mulo had seen the place where they came to “walk on the land” when he had gone in a truck with his mother to try to find his father. The man had disappeared after being arrested for participating in a demonstration. The boy had been more excited at seeing the airplanes than distressed by the thought of what might have happened to his father. But, he had only been six years old then. Mulo asked his mother if he would ever be able to go up in an airplane.


 Squeezing his hand as the truck bounced along, Murlo’s mother had replied: “Someday, maybe. . . .” She had inquired once, in secret, about the price of airplane tickets. This was when she planned to run away from her husband – who beat her regularly – and live with her sister in England. She knew now that, unfortunately, the price of even the shortest flight on an airliner was more than she earned in a year.


RRRRROOOOOAAARRR . . . rrroooaarr. . . .


Down in the stadium, the whine from the jumbo jet’s four Pratt and Whitney turbofans drowned out even the crowd’s noise.


The Springbok’s opponents, New Zealand’s All Blacks – who were neither all black, nor all from New Zealand – took the aerial diversion distorting the sporting nature of the contest stoically. They also chose not to make an issue of, nor publicize, the fact that 18 members of their team, including 10 starters, suffered food poisoning after a lunch at their hotel two days earlier.


RRRRoooooooaaaaarroooooooooaaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrrrr. . . .


The people from the shanties had all gone back indoors. If they had windows, or shutters, they closed them. However, the sun on the tin roofs would soon make it too hot inside. The jumbo circled for another pass at the stadium. The black exhaust, from having to run the engines at a rich mixture because of the low altitude, was coating the neighborhoods with a thin film off oil. Those who came back out soon found the oil clogging their nostrils, and a petroleum taste on the insides of their teeth.


Covering his ears with his hands. Mulo tried to hide under his bed, as he haddone when his father used to come home in a drunken rage. “Make it stop, Momma . . . make the noise go away!” he cried. Coughing in the dust under the bed, Mulo decided he did not like airplanes now.


RRRRRRRROOOOOOOAAAAAAArrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr. . . .


One of the All Black’s star players, still suffering from food poisoning, and passing gas all through the first half, had retired to the lavatory at half-time, and did not return for the rest of the game.


RRR . . . OOO . . . Aaaa . . . rrrrrrrrr. . . .


Crouching in the corner of their shanty, Mulo’s grandfather contentedly smoked a cigarette. He had gone deaf some three years ago, just after his son disappeared. He took a deep drag, the light from the cigarette stabbing at the darkness of the hot room. If he closed his eyes, and held the smoke in his lungs long enough, it seemed as though he did not exist.


Rrrrrrrrrrrrrooooooooooaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr. . . .


Despite the distracting circumstances, the All Blacks were playing well. A team that offered neither tactical innovation, nor outstanding flair was nevertheless, beating them. The Springboks favored orthodox rugby, based on the avoidance of risk-taking, and a willingness to tackle everyone in sight.


“Fuck, that Lomu has got the fucking ball!”


“What the fuck! . . .”

“Grab the black son-of-a-bitch!”

 “Fuck the bloody bastard . . . kill the fucker!”

Springboks converged from every angle, hitting the runner, with a crunching of bones, high, low, and somewhere in between – spirit counting for more than finesse.  Waving his beer and shouting, “Bloody good show! Scragg the fuckin’ nigger!” a fan from Johannesburg voiced his approval of the play.


Normal time ended with the teams tied at nine.


RRR   OOO   AAA   RRR RRRooooaaaarrrrrrrrrrrr!


During the break, the unstoppable 6 foot 5 inch, 20 year old, Johna Lomu, one of the All Blacks premier runners, sat on the bench, isolated in his headset, farting, and listening to a Bob Marley tape.




“Make it stop Momma, make the noise go away!”


“I don’t know how Mulo . . . I don’t know how!”


“Make it stop, Grandpa, make the noise go away!”


“I cannot hear you, Mulo . . . I have gone deaf.”


“Make it stop, Papa, make the noise go away!”


“I cannot help you my son . . . I am not here anymore.”


The shape of the match changed dramatically during the extra time, going from a traditional running game to a more modern, tactical kicking game, with the Springboks finally claiming victory by 15 to 12.


Lifting a glass of Champagne at the banquet held to mark the end of the World Cup, the country’s rugby president, in a stumbling speech that resonated with the old Afrikaans arrogance, proclaimed the Springboks as the first “true” world champions. “There were no true world champions in the 1987 and 1991 World Cups because South Africa was not there,” He declared.


At this remark, the captain of the defeated New Zealand team got up and led his players from the room. The All Blacks were quickly followed by the French and English teams.





S. Francis Pringle was born in New Zealand, and educated in England. His stories have been published world wide, and he has won the Kiwi Prize. One of the foremost experts on the Ojibwa language, Pringle currently resides in upstate New York where he translates textbooks on casino gambling methods into Native American dialects.




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Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Bruno Schulz

Bruno Schulz, self-portrait

AN EXCEPTIONAL POLISH, PAINTER, illustrator and graphic artist, Bruno Schulz was born in 1892 in Drohobych, a town of modest size located in western Ukraine, not far from the city of Lviv. He spent nearly his entire life there and was generally unwilling to travel. His voyages outside of his native city were sporadic and brief. He viewed Drohobych to be the center of the world and was a penetrating observer of life there, proving himself an excellent "chronicler." His writings and his art are both saturated with the realities of Drohobych. His stories are replete with descriptions of the town's main streets and landmarks, as well as with images of its inhabitants.

Schulz's output as a writer was relatively modest in terms of quantity, but exceptionally rich in quality and subject matter. It consists of two volumes of short stories - SKLEPY CYNAMONOWE / THE STREET OF CROCODILES and SANATORIUM POD KLEPSYDRA / THE SANATORIUM UNDER THE SIGN OF THE HOURGLASS - and a handful of texts the writer did not include in the first editions of these two collections. Apart from the stories, there is an unusually interesting set of letters, published in the so-called KSIEGA LISTOW / BOOK OF LETTERS, as well as "critical sketches" (primarily press reviews of literary works) that were only recently collected and published in a separate volume.

It was from Schulz the writer of letters to friends and acquaintances that Schulz the prose writer was born. Writer Zofia Nalkowska, a close friend (the artist visited her many times in Warsaw), played a fundamental role in this transformation of Schulz from humble art teacher to artist. More fully to express his vision of the world and his imagination, the author consciously enlivened his narrations and descriptions, introduced quirky characters, used colorful language replete with anachronisms, regionalisms and metaphors. As a result, one reads his many-themed, multi-layered prose with growing interest. Recent years have brought the growth of a worldwide fascination with Schulz's literary works, confirmed in growing numbers of translations, commentaries and critical studies, as well as in works of fiction that take the author of THE STREETOF CROCODILES as their protagonist (see, for example,American author Cynthia Ozick's short novel THE MESSIAH OF STOCKHOLM). Admirers of Schulz's prose have included such notable writers as Bohumil Hrabal, Danilo Kis and John Updike.

The protagonist of Schulz's stories is Jozef, who seems to be the author's spokesman. Apart from Jozef there is Jakub - the protagonist's father and a counterpart of the writer's own father. Jakub is an unusually picturesque character, a teller of tales and demiurge, a creator of the material world who has the wonderful power to transform into various beings. Though at times he might seem to be a minor deity, it is enough for a young woman to appear in his midst for him to forget his creative abilities and succumb to her charms. Men, who in Schulz's prose embody mental faculty, surrender to the allure of women, who the author seems to equate with matter, that which is concrete and practical rather than poetic and artistic. This opposition is the source of the erotic bond the author draws between members of opposing genders. In the end, in Schulz's writings, woman becomes a metaphor for an apocalyptic vision of the world, a vision in which the world is dominated by pragmatism rather than by art. This one possible interpretation does not take account of other readings of Schulz's prose (e.g. those based on psychoanalysis, reference to the Cabal, postmodern perspectives, or, more recently, feminist ones).

Before the author turned to literature, however, he proved himself a successful visual artist (he was self-taught, never having completed the technical studies he embarked on, first in Lviv, then in Vienna). Using the rare printing technique of cliche-verre, he produced, among others, a series of drawings that focused on the subject of sadomasochism, amassed in a portfolio titled XIEGA BALWOCHWALCZA / THE BOOK OF IDOLATRY (c. 1920). Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz was one of the first to praise the works from this portfolio, classifying their author as a "demonologist." Most of these consist of grotesque scenes in which women dominate men, the latter consenting to their role of subordinate beings, adoring the women in all possible ways and ultimately raising altars in their praise. In these works, Schulz draws a close link betweenfemalesadism and male masochism.

Schulz was one of thefirst admirers of Witold Gombrowicz's novel FERDYDURKE (1938) and produced the illustrations for the first edition of the book, and also created illustrations for an edition of his own collection of stories titled SANATORIUM POD KLEPSYDRA / THE SANATORIUM UNDER THE SIGN OF THE HOURGLASS. He left behind several hundred additional drawings created for a variety of purposes and thus ranging widely in nature. Some of these are pencil studies and sketches for etchings or works embodying the themes evident in his prose (the largest collection of these, consisting of more than three hundred items, is in the possession of the Adam Mickiewicz Museum of Literature in Warsaw).

For many years, information would sporadically surface on canvasses by the author of THE STREET OF CROCODILES. This would appear in the accounts of family members and friends, as well as in rare photographs. An original composition, however, did not appear at auction until 1992, which UNESCO named the Year of Bruno Schulz (to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the author's birth and the 50th anniversary of his death). At present, this work is known under the title given to it during an expert examination that preceded its sale: SPOTKANIE. ZYDOWSKI MLODZIENIEC I DWIE KOBIETY W ZAULKU MIEJSKIM / THE MEETING - A YOUNG JEW AND TWO WOMEN IN AN ALLEY (1920). The author often failed to title his works, THE BOOK OF IDOLATRY being an exception. THE MEETING is a version of a motif explored often by the artist: the meeting of two worlds, two conflicting spheres of reality personified by women and men. The opposing nature of these two spheres is underlined here through such means as spatial division and differentiation in dress. The painting depicts a young Hassid (side curls, black robe, and a wide-brimmed round hat) who bows, as is often the case in Schulz's images, in an overly humble manner before two equally young women dressed in art deco style. The scene plays out against the buildings of a small town that lie below. Thepainting shows Schulz to have had an able hand and significant experience as an artist. His skillful rendering of shapes, original use of space, refined choice of colors allows us to speak of him as one of the most interesting painters of the inter-war years. This impression becomes stronger when one notices the artist's apparent sensitivity to recent and new tendencies in art (German Expressionism, Formism, Surrealism), processed and transformed reminiscences of which can be seen in the canvas. The unexpected appearance of THE MEETING generated the hope that in favorable circumstances, additional paintings by the artist might one day surface. The work was first presented to the public at the Museum of Literature in Warsaw, during an exhibition titled AD MEMORIAM - BRUNO SCHULZ 1892-1942, organized in 1992 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Schulz's birth and the 50th anniversary of his death. A two-volume catalogue published on the occasion contains the most comprehensive available information on the creative output of the author of THE STREET OF CROCODILES.

The clarity and originality of the world presented by Schulz - be it in his prose or in his art - has generated enduring interest in his oeuvre, interest that continues to grow and has expanded to encompass his biography. The latter has in itself proven to be intriguing and was reconstructed many years ago by Jerzy Ficowski based on the memories of family members and those who knew Schulz. It remains full of mysteries, however. To this day, for example, it remains unknown whether the author ever wrote a novel titled "Mesjasz" / "The Messiah," which he mentions multiple times in his letters. No traces of this have yet been found.

The year 2001 brought the resolution of another mystery: a series of murals painted by Schulz just before his tragic death (on November 19, 1942, the writer and artist was shot in the streets of Drohobych by a member of the Gestapo) in "Landau's Villa" in Drohobych. Discovered (and photographed) by German filmmaker Benjamin Geissler, for the preceding fifty years it was thought that they had been destroyed. Unfortunately, the discovery was partly destroyed when representatives of the Yad Vashem Institute in Israel secretly removed significant fragments of the murals and transported them outside of Ukraine. The pieces that remained were transferred tothe Drohobychina Museum in Drohobych and were presented for the first time in Poland in 2003 as part of an exhibition titled REPUBLIKA MARZEN / REPUBLIC OF DREAMS. Organized by the Gdansk-based Kontakt Agency and the Museum of Literature in Warsaw, the exhibit toured Warsaw, Wroclaw and Gdansk.

The international dispute that ensued reminded people around the world of Schulz's links with Drohobych. This city now owes the author its status as a "magical place" that - like Dublin, Prague or Trieste - is recorded forever in the pages of world literary masterpieces. Interest in Schulz's output has gown with the advent of subsequent anniversaries in 2002: namely, the 110th anniversary of the artist's birth and the 60th anniversary of his passing. A series of new publications appeared on this occasion, including new editions of Jerzy Ficowski's KSIEGA LISTOW / THE BOOK OF LETTERS and REGIONY WIELKIEJ HEREZJI I OKOLICE / REGIONS OF GREAT HERESY AND THEIR SURROUNDINGS, and the first-ever edition of the vast "Slownik wiedzy o Brunonie Schulzu" / "Dictionary of Knowledge about Bruno Schulz."

Malgorzata Kitowska-Lysiak
Art History Institute of the Catholic University of Lublin
Faculty of Art Theory and the History of Artistic Doctrines
January 2003


If you haven't read anything by Bruno Schulz you should. While little known in the United States, Schulz is one of the finest writers of the Twentieth Century. You can read Schulz's stories on The above biography came from


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Sunday, June 11, 2006

Lamar Herrin

By Barbara Adams
Special to The Journal

Lamar Herrin


Lamar Herrin's new book "Romancing Spain" is about meeting his wife, Amparo, who is pictured on the cover

Novelist and retired Cornell professor of creative writing, Lamar Herrin recently wrote about Spain in his 2005 novel, “House of the Deaf.” The story describes an American father who disappears into Spain in search of himself and the memory of his daughter, killed in a bombing by Basque separatists. But Herrin's newest work, a memoir, strikes a much lighter note. “Romancing Spain” lyrically unfolds the author's passion for both a woman and a culture.

In 1969, Herrin first arrived in Spain at the age of 29, disgruntled with the Vietnam war and ready for adventure. On the ship over he met a charismatic young artist from Valencia who later introduced him to his lovely sister, Amparo, then 22. The lanky Southerner and the young woman, the treasure of her traditional Spanish family, fell in love.

But as he'd been previously wed and divorced, Spain's Catholic culture imposed endless obstacles to their marriage.”Romancing Spain” describes their roller-coaster courtship, with Herrin crisscrossing both Spain and Catholic bureaucracy in search of a loophole that would permit them to marry. His Quixotic journey for his Dulcinea is interleaved with a contemporary narration of the couple, now married 30 years, travelling through rural Spain, looking for “theperfect town” that sums up the best of the culture.

On Saturday June 10, Lamar Herrin read from “Romancing Spain” at the Dewitt Mall Atrium in an event sponsored by the Bookery. 

Ithaca Journal contributor Barbara Adams spoke with him about his work.

BA: This is your first published memoir. How long has the book been brewing?

LH: I wrote the first version about six years ago, before I wrote “House of the Deaf.” I'd always wanted to write the story of our struggle to get married. In 1999 my wife and I decided to travel around Spain for three months - we knew the cities but wanted to see the small towns. Amparo is a late sleeper and I'm an early riser, so I'd write every morning from 8:30 to 11:30, with a laptop on my lap, looking out of a hotel window. I'd feel liberated by midday, with a day's work behind me. It was the first thing I've ever written at a computer - I usually use a manual typewriter.

I took a delight in writing about the towns, with Amparo sleeping at my back. I was only about three or four towns behind where we'd just been when writing about a place. Then I began to write about when I first came to Spain in 1969, and the idea of combining our search for a perfect town in the present and the story of our marriage came out of that trip. The plot was just there, of us trying to get married - it's all real. And the deviousness of the church - I didn't have to make that up. I've written a few versions, kept taking towns in and out. I once had a lot more about Franco in the book.

At first I'd thought I might do the love story as a novel, but then somehow it began to come out the way it did. It was a bit ticklish, with certain family members still alive. But I liked the way those two stories [our original meeting and our trip as a married couple 30 years later] came together.

BA: You've written fiction set in Spain. Do you get a different sense of the country each time you write about it?

LH: Yes, but I'm oversimplifying it tremendously, both dark and bright sides. You get the dark and violent aspects in “House of the Deaf.” Here, in the memoir, it's obviously a lyrical treatment of Spain. I respond to the country in both ways. I've been tremendously impressed with Spain since Franco's death - there have been some very progressive steps in education, culture, the environment, labor, immigration, and civil rights especially. But Spain is still this very ceremonial place, a theatrical country - you stop out onto the streets and you're on stage. Amparo knows I'm being a bit innocent about this - there's deviousness behind the theatricality, but I choose not to concentrate on that.

As a young man, I lived in Spain for three years and eight months, until the Franco thing got to me. Still I'm drawn to that Spanish way of life, the ceremonial and familial. But when she was younger, Amparo felt that culture closing in on her. She's a U.S. citizen, and her allegiance is here now - she's very fond of Ithaca, of what's open and green and wild.

BA: What has been your wife's response to the book?

LH: Oh, she was very embarrassed by all the flattery, of course. Our children seem to like it very much. My son, who's 34, wasn't even bothered by the line where I described him “as lean as a skinned rabbit.”

BA: All memoir is partly fictionalized - how does that happen here?

LH: I can simplify by saying that it all happened some 30 years ago. The dailiness is kind of gone...sometimes I'd ask Amparo about specific details. I can remember going into a certain office to see a certain man about a certain issue. But I can't remember the man in particular - rather the outcome. I fall back on my tendencies as a novelist; my main trust is to bring the scene to life. So I'm forced to make it up - where the memory doesn't reach the imagination has to take up the slack.

BA: What proved surprisingly difficult?

LH: I wrote it with a novelist's naivete. Even at readings, novelists can always hide behind their characters. But in a memoir, there's this sense of exposure - not in the first half of the book, but I eventually realized I'm telling a lot about myself, things people won't necessarily like. But I don't see how else to do it.

BA: Is there any connection between the fictional protagonist, Ben, in “House of the Deaf” and the young man seeking his bride in “Romancing Spain”?

LH: Well, a little bit. In Madrid, Ben sees the intricately coded behavior of the Spanish. He resists, his guard is up -- he's never been out of his culture. Catholicism in Spain is a rampant cultural force, permeating everything. I found it colorful, interesting, but it was a culture sealed off from me, complete unto itself. I had no way of penetrating it - either the church or Spanish history. Yet unlike Ben, I wanted to participate from the inside out.

As a cultural phenomenon the church fascinated me; as a codified system of beliefs it bothered me. There was that ostentatious display of wealth in Baroque churches, and the sight of poor peopledragging themselves in to worship before altars drenched in gold. It's fascinating stuff but you can get stuck in it - there are no clean lines, no avenues of escape.

BA: What are you most trying to do in this memoir?

LH: It's a love story - I'm writing it both to Amparo and to her country. And it's a search for home in some ways, a place to be. The story eventually hones in on the little town Amparo came from. We visit there all the time, but we'll never live there. Yet the book, for me, is a search for home. In 1969 when I arrived in Spain I was a sort of expatriate, yet I already felt accepted. Of course, when I began to court their prize possession, that put a slightly different cast on it.

Back then, I didn't think it was possible to make one unprescribed move in that country, and if you stepped beyond you were violating some ancient code of behavior. Years later, going back to Spain, I appreciated that all more. One reason I wrote the book was to leave something for our son and daughter. But mostly it is my homage to Spain - repayment for what Spain has done for me.


This article was reprinted from THE ITHACA JOURNAL of June 8, 2006, with the permission of the author. Thank you for logging on. Please check back again. While most of our material is invited, you may send submissions to

Tuesday, June 6, 2006

Restless Spirits, a book review

 Stephen Poleskie

Book Cover

Between Two Fires
By Nicholas Nicastro
McBooks Press
384 pages, $16.05, paperback

During the second week of September, 2002, three items offering a glimmer of hope to a chaotic world received scant notice in the nation’s newspapers: the Sri Lankan government lifted a ban on the Tamil Tigers, pledging to begin peace talks with the rebels within the month; GlaxoSmithKline, a British pharmaceutical company, offered to cut the price of Aids and malaria drugs in poor countries by up to a third; and Switzerland, after decades of conceited isolation, finally joined the United Nations.

During those same two weeks I read Nicholas Nicastro’s second volume of his John Paul Jones trilogy, Between Two Fires. I mention the above disparate events, as while they were of considerable importance to those closely involved, to the rest of the world, especially in USA, Inc. where we are mostly concerned with a falling stock market, these news items, if they did appear, were generally ignored. I wondered if perhaps 200 years from now a future author, assuming there still are humans and books, would find in these incongruous events the inspiration for an historical novel set in the period called “The Age of Globalization.”

Nicholas Nicastro has chosen similarly divergent events, set during the time of the American Revolution, for his new new novel. Between Two Fires weaves together episodes in the lives of “war hero” Jones, John Severence, a soldier of fortune with the Sullivan Expedition, and Joseph Two Fires, a Cayuga warrior still sorting out his relationship to the white men that have invaded his lands. Joseph Two Fires is one of the “two fires” in the title of this rather schizo novel. The other, I’m assuming, is the war raging, on two continents, during the American struggle for independence.
If your are expecting to discover the revolutionary origins of the “moral high road” our government is currently leading us down you will not find it here. There are no “good guys” in this book, at least not in the sense that we learned in high-school history class. And while this is a work of fiction, that has been in the author’s own words “highly embroidered,” the descriptions of the war, and the social conditions of the time, have been carefully researched. A few of the more gruesome battle scenes might offend some readers.

In Between Two Fires, author Nicastro reveals himself to be an effective storyteller, clever at developing the plot, while exhibiting a deft command of the language. He displays a love for the landscape with some vivid descriptions of what upstate New York and Pennsylvania must have looked like during the Revolution. Nicastro hints at his own sense of humor, and irony, in John Severence’s description of the area that is now modern day Ithaca:

Our march down the eastern shores of Cayugah Lake proceeded without further incident....
The southern end of the lake is blighted by a swamp. With so little solid shore to build upon, the place will surely never fall under the improving hand of civilization. The eastern edge of the bog is marked by a chasm of gray stone ending in a wide and pleasing waterfall, beside which our party was delighted to camp for an evening. Fully seventy yards wide from top to bottom, the torrent exceeds anything I have seen in England or France. Even in late summer, a great volume of water flows over this precipice. It is curious to think, in fact, that its remoteness is the whole cause of its anonymity. If it were in a hundred miles of Londonor Paris, poets would have sung its praise for centuries. Here, not even our native scouts have a name for it.

The book begins in a charming and unexpected manner with John Paul Jones engaged in a water battle. Just as we dig in awaiting the wide-screen action we realize it is only Jones, already the hero of the engagement against HMS Drake at Belfast, playing at combat on a pond with the boy Comte de la Rochjaquelein. Before the fray is ended, Jones is called away to his new ship the Bon Homme Richard, which has been named after Benjamin Franklin. As Jones strides off, the disappointed young count shouts after him: “But I have not yet begun to fight!”

The second chapter shifts to the present. “I am talking to you because I am dead,” Joseph Two Fires tells us by way of introduction. Readers who prefer their stories to proceed in a chronological order should buckle in for a rough ride through Nicastro’s time warps. As the author disclaims in his Afterword, “I have taken some liberties with the timing of . . . events in the book.”

Two Fires goes on to detail the good life he lived, “at the center of the world” in Chonodote, or “Peach Town,” before it was stolen by the State of New York. I guessed this place to be somewhere north of Aurora, NY, as this is where the “No Sovereign Nation” signs begin to appear when you drive up the east side of Cayuga Lake.

“I won’t say our lives were perfect,” Two Fires says, feigning modesty. “All I can say is that if you’re a white man, living in your dreary, suffocating white town with your tight white hard clothes and your bland white mush food, then, well, we lived better than you do.” Remember this screed. It appears again in the Epilogue, which would have been better left out of the book.

In this final, three-page, section, Two Fires, having been murdered by a white man—I will not say who as it would give away too much of the plot—was not buried properly, and therefore not eligible for Indian heaven. The warrior’s spirit goes in search of it anyway, only to wind up in Cleveland. There he rants about the tall buildings, and pollution from airliners, and white man sitting in a “suffocating town with your little hard white clothes and your bland white mush food.” He makes no mention of casino gambling. The dead Two Fires warns that, “Someone else from across the ocean is coming (al-Qaida? Saddam?)to take what’s left of Turtle Island from you. . .  And you know what? I can’t wait.” Two Fires would be wise not to repeat this revile in front of his mailman or meter reader; he could end up a referral to President Bush’s inform-on-your- neighbors program.

We are told Two Fires learned English from his white mother. While Two Fires’s use of the words “cock,” “prick,” and “balls” at times causes his dialogue to seem a bit too contemporary, a check of my slang dictionary reveals that these words have been employed to refer to male organs since the 16th century. Nicastro goes through pains in the Afterword to explain why he has Indians saying “okay.”

Two Fires’s mother also tried to teach him Christianity, as did Father Du Lac, the missionary at Chonodote. All the characters in the book, even such vile ones as General Sullivan, who had Indian skins made into boots, are shown to have a good side, if only for the odd moment. The single person depicted as truly evil—he was stripped naked and cast into the wilderness by Severence—is Father Du Lac.
When Two Fires’s father falls into a deer trap and dies from the wounds he sustains, the son has to go and kill someone from the neighboring Shawnee, since it was men from that tribe who dug the trap. He kills a boy but brings the father back for his sister, Fallen Leaf, who will appear in a major role under a different name later on in the book. When Fallen Leaf rejects the Shawnee, Two Fires tortures him to death by roasting him while cutting off various parts of his anatomy. To please his sister, Two Fires goes farther afield and comes back with a white man, a survivor of a naval battle on Lake Champlain, which the warrior gets to narrate. The white man is too cowardly, and begins to whimper at the suggestion of torture, so is let go.

Two Fires meets his downfall, at least for the second chapter, on a walkabout to the Saint Lawrence River. He will have many more, and a few triumphs before he gets to fly over Cleveland. It is the warrior’s hubris that brings him down. While standing on shore admiring a large sailing vessel in the river, he is approached by a white man who says, “You speekee?”

One thing that drives Two Fires into a rage is to be addressed by a white man who doesn’t use proper English. In a huff he replies, “Joseph Two Fires, sir. And to whom do I have the pleasure of speaking?” In an aside the dead Two Fires informs the reader that he “liked to talk this way when I met assholes who ask if I ‘speekee.”’ While Two Fires is standing there with his feathers ruffled, a rowboat puts out from the other side of the ship and six men sneak up behind him. “Disarm nigger,” a voice says.

Yes, he does use the “n” word, which I suppose was used at the time to refer to Indians, although I have not been able verify this. Nicastro makes no reference to the “n” word in his Afterword, and the term will appear on several more occasions. More correctly, other titles offensive to the indigenous people, such as the name of the Washington D. C. football team, are not used in this book.

In the midst of the action, Two Fires tells us, “I noticed that one of the guys kicking me was barefoot, and that he had very ugly feet. They were knobby, they stank....” One wonders how someone so pawky he can detect stinky feet while being kicked in the “stomach, kidneys, balls,” could have missed those same feet, along with five other pairs, when they were padding up behind him.

Shanghaied aboard a Dutch vessel, Two Fires becomes bored by the of lack of action and swims over to Captain Jones on the Bon Homme Richard. During the battle against HMS Serapis, Two Fires is credited with dropping a grenade down the hatch of the British vessel, an action which dramatically influences the outcome of the battle. Nicastro tells us in his Afterword that this brave feat was actually accomplished by a Scotsman, William Hamilton, who “deserves to be remembered.” I don’t imagine we will hear any howls from the Scots. However, I could imagine the war parties that would be forming up in the Turning Stone Nation if the positions had been reversed, with Two Fires getting the pat on the head.

The most finely-wrought character in this book is John Severence—spelled with an “e.” Here is a man the reader can identify with and get behind, which is what is supposed to happen. Skillfully depicted and believable, Severence clings to what he considers to be his moral high road, while still hoping to make a profit trading with the Indians.

Severence’s tale is told through a series of letters to his sweetheart, Rebecca Shays, who is waiting for him back in Portsmouth, NH, with her father, Elijah, a war profiteer who uses his ships for blockade running. Elijah, himself, devotes his time to studying his bowel movements. To this end he has purchased a porcelain chamber pot with the visage of the British monarch, George III on the bottom, and the words below it, Pro lustitia Sedeo—I sit for justice. Shays laments that in his youth he could have covered the king's face easily with turds "of the finest quality and quantity." Now, alas, the king is rarely more than slightly soiled. Shays’s other divertissement, is snooping through his daughter’s letters from her lover.

While Severence’s chapters begin as letters, they soon seguĂ© into full-blown action scenes, with dialogue, and the sounds of musket shots, barking dogs, and dying Indians. This filmmaker’s technique might be a bit disconcerting to a reader more accustomed to books such as George Cooper’s Lost Love, where the story is told in letters that remain letters. Nevertheless, Severence’s lengthy “letters”—some 15 pages or more in the text, that would probably have been 50 pages at least in their handwritten form—have the ring of truth about them, and the narrative drive of a well-plotted novel. Severence is a good writer.

The ever-waiting Rebecca is depicted with the fortitude of a marshmallow. She does manage to shine in her two big scenes, and plays a large part at the end—which I shall not reveal. Finding herself out of laudanum, and the drugstore’s stocks depleted by the British shipping blockade, she ferrets out the local drug dealer. In her other bit, Rebecca, believing she is pregnant by some form of immaculate conception, visits the local midwife. The woman convinces her that despite the pains in her stomach Rebecca is not with child. Toward the end of the book, Rebecca, with the same suspicion, goes to the home of the same midwife, but does not receive the same answer. Likewise, I will not divulge who the father is.

Which brings us to our main hero, John Paul Jones. Having taken command of the Bon Homme Richard, Jones is on the high seas, accompanied by a small squadron of foreign vessels sailed by moody and recalcitrant foreign captains.

Also along is Henriette d’Barejou, a French artist, entirely the fabrication of author Nicastro. Having spent the better part of my previous life around art and artists, I can say he has done an agreeable job with Henriette, giving her a believable wit and substance that never falls into caricature. Her mission in life is to reconstruct the face of Christ. To this end she has sketched hundreds of faces looking for the ideal components from which to assemble her composite picture. She finds the perfect nose, detached from its face, floating across the deck during the battle with HMS Serapis. What becomes of the nose? For this too you will have to read the book.

There you have the heroes, with their feminine interests. So who are the bad guys? Of these there are a number in Between Two Fires. Even the sacrosanct “Father of our Country” does not come off well in his cameo appearance, being described in rather Reaganesque terms:

Washington ascended the mounting block and swept that great white pillar of a leg over his horse’s back. ... the general’s movements seemed calculated for effect, as if he expected the cant of his head or the way his wide rump filled his saddle to alter the course of empires. This made him seem more like an actor hired to play the part of a commander than a real soldier.

But the foremost “heavy” has got to be General Sullivan, leading his expedition north from Easton, Pennsylvania, to “pacify” the Indians—the word I recall from the many road signs that lined Route 309, The Sullivan Trail, as it wound its way through my youth. Back when there wasno Route 81, I often took The Sullivan Trail on the trip from my home in Wyoming Valley to New York City. As I rushed my way to the Big Apple, looking for art and culture, but secretly hoping it would find me, I did not pause to think about the road I was on and how it had been made. “To pacify” was enough. Weren’t the Indians mere savages, who when they weren’t attacking “us” were ceaselessly fighting with each other? All we had done was establish a few “settlements” basically to trade with them, and bring Christianity to the heathens.

In those days, no one ever referred to General Sullivan’s campaign as genocide. Sure a few Indian villages were burned. And a few Indians, as always mostly women and children, were “processed,” the word used euphemistically, as in “meat processing plant.” They had burned our settlements so we had to retaliate. They were “terrorists” who came without warning, retaliating for what we had done to them. They were on the side of the British, to whom we colonists were “terrorists” having done more than just dump a few sacks of tea into Boston Harbor.

Nothing has changed. We saw parallel situations in the Warsaw Ghetto, and in too-soon forgotten Sarajevo and Srebrenica, and Rwanda, and presently still in Israel and Sudan, and a list of other places much too long. Nicastro’s novel, as all good history texts should, whether fiction or non-fiction, causes us to reassess where we stand as human beings; to ask ourselves why is it always “them” or “us.” Why can’t we live in harmony with one another and with nature? John Severence asks himself this question as he moves with his troops to destroy yet another peaceful Indian village: “We march, it seems, in the center of some great hush. It is as if the land itself were waiting to see the end of the present struggle and hence perhaps its own fate.”

Between Two Fires will have readers who have not read the first volume rushing back to get it. The first book, The Eighteenth Captain, should not be hard to find, as Ithaca publisher Alex Skutt of McBooks Press keeps his previous titles in stock, unlike the money-mad major houses which are all too eager to turn unsold books into pulp. A third, and final, volume of the John Paul Jones series is in the works.



This is a revised version a a review that originally appeared in the BookPress, an Ithaca literary journal that is no longer in existence.

Stephen Poleskie has had stories published in numerous literary journals. His biographical novel, The Balloonist: The Story of Thaddeus Sobieski Constantine Lowe, is forthcoming from Frederic C. Beil, Publisher, in the fall of  2006.


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Sunday, June 4, 2006

What is an Onager?

on·a·ger (n-jr) n. 1. A fast-running wild ass (Equus hemionus subsp. onager) of central Asia, having an erect mane and a broad black stripe along its back. 2. An ancient and medieval stone-propelling siege engine. [Middle English, from Late Latin, from Latin, wild ass, from Greek onagros : onos, ass + agrios, wild; see agro- in Indo-European roots.] hm();Sources=Sources | 2; The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2003. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved. Definitions and drawings from the Online Free Dictionary.

ThesaurusLegend:  Synonyms Related Words Antonyms Noun 1. onageronager - medieval artillery used during sieges; a heavy war engine for hurling large stones and other missiles
arbalest, arbalist, ballista, bricole, mangonel, trebuchet, trebucket, catapult artillery, heavy weapon, ordnance, gun - large but transportable armament 2. onageronager - Asiatic wild ass Equus hemionus wild ass - any of several plain-colored equine mammals of Asia and northeast Africa chigetai, dziggetai, Equus hemionus hemionus - Mongolian wild ass.


OnagerEditions will soon have a list of chapbooks and pamphlets from various authors. Presently only publications by Stephen Poleskie are available from When one of Poleskie's friends asked him recently "just who is this Mr. Onager who is publishing all your pamphlets?" he instructed me to me to explain that there was no Mr. Onager, and to put up this entry for those who do not know what an onager is. You are left to your own devices to figure out why founder Poleskie chose OnagerEditions for title of his press. The last press he had was named Chiron Press. This was in New York City in the 1960s on the LowerEast Side, and did screen printing for artists such as Robert Indiana, Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol, and magazines like the Paris Review. You can learn more about Poleskie's activities by clicking on his blog in the panel on your left. 

Sidney Grayling, Editor

OnagerEditions                                                                               OE


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Legal Tender

a short story


Thaddeus Rutkowski



When I pull out a twenty-dollar bill for some reason-some payment or other-she says, "My money," and takes the cash and runs away with it.


I chase her and retrieve the bill, but instead of letting the cash go gracefully, she throws herself down, onto the floor or ground, and screams, "No!"


"It's not your money," I say.


"It's mine," she says.


I give her a one-dollar bill, a single clam, a lone simoleon, hoping she will be satisfied, but she is not happy. "I want more money!" she says.


I can't believe she understands the value of a twenty versus the worthlessness of a one, and by extension the comfort of riches versus the agony of poverty, but apparently she does. Perhaps she won't grow up to be like me, with my devil-may-care, artists-must-starve attitude toward money. Maybe she'll build up a stash before I die and give me some of it, as a sort of fatherhood stipend.


Or maybe she just prefers Jackson's face to Washington's. Or maybe she likes the first piece of paper currency she held and doesn'twant to exchange it for another that feels just as good when rubbed between the fingers.


"Look," I say, "a dollar has value. It's worth a lot more than a penny. Some people worship it. Others steal it. You should be generous with it."


"Dah-roar!" she says. "It's a dah-roar. Come on!"


I know then that it's time to go out and spend some money, on lord knows what.





Thaddeus Rutkowski's second book, Tetched: A Novel in Fractals, was published recently by Behler Publications in California. His first novel, Roughhouse (Kaya Press), was a finalist for an Asian American Literary Award. He lives in Manhattan with his wife and daughter.

Thaddeus Rutkowski gave a reading in Ithaca on July 7 at 8 p.m. at Junas's Cafe at 146 E. State Street, on the Commons downtown. For information about Juna's readings, and poetry open mics, telephone 607.256.429, or check their web site You can find Thaddeus's web site at


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Saturday, June 3, 2006

Crazy Joe

a short story by

 Jeanne Mackin

We weren’t scared of much, but Crazy Joe scared us.
       We rough, small-town kids, a gang of six, all the same age,  could
chase each other with oozing blood suckers,  put flashlights under our
chins and tell ghost stories at midnight, ride bicycles down steep
hills, hands overhead, not on the handles.  But when Crazy Joe moved to
the neighborhood we huddled in a quiet circle,  aware of an unpleasant
new sensation: fear of the unknown.  But then, what is fear, if not 
awareness of the unfamiliar?
    Crazy Joe wore a torn, faded military jacket, a peeling leather helmet
with goggles, and boots of no lingering color, held together with
ragged cloth.  His scanty hair, visible at the back of his head and the
sides where the helmet did not reach, was gray and lank. Everything
about him seemed gray and shrunken, as if he were a nighttime creature
ill at ease in the light.  His eyes were the grayest thing of all, and
they never seemed to focus on anything, least of all us.
    “Don’t go near him,” my  brother ordered. He was older and not part of
the gang of six.
    “Why?”  I resented orders from one born just a year before myself, but
knew he was right.
    Crazy Joe inhabited the thin edge of the known, the place where you
don’t want to step off of.  He wasn’t part of our known world of pretty
mothers who slept precisely on bouffant hairdos that never stirred,  of
home-from-the-war fathers who drank martinis at dinner and built rec
rooms in the basement of their new ranch houses, then later converted
those rec rooms to home bars, and then to bomb shelters...just in case.
      Crazy Joe  lived in his own world, cut off from our reality,
amputated from us by the surgery of his madness:  he came out of his
sister’s gray ranch house every morning at seven-thirty and without so
much as a quisling glance at the sky would charge up the graveled hill
that was our street, running as quickly as his thin, uncertain legs
could carry him.  As he ran, arms held askew in front rather than
swinging at his side, he would screech incomprehensible things at
enemies we couldn’tsee. At the top of the hill he would stop, catch
his breath, then run screeching back down.  He repeated this crazed
charge dozens of times, stopping only when his breath was so ragged it
exploded from his lungs in broken gasps.
    Exhausted, he would retreat to the lilac bush in his sister’s front
yard and crouch there, waiting.  He would still be there,  gray and
gasping, when we came home from school in the afternoon.  We crossed to
the other side of the street rather than pass directly in front of that
lilac bush.
    Buddy O Brien, born during the war rather than after and so older than
us, said that Crazy Joe’s clothes were from the Great War, the war
before. Buddy was a history enthusiast and knew such things.  Crazy
Joe, he said, was a war vet, just like our dads.
    “Is not!”  we screamed, horrified at that dangerous connection.  Our
fathers did not screech up and down the hill or crouch under bushes. 
Our fathers, if they spoke of the war at all, spoke quietly, made light
of it, turning it into the stuff of Saturday night cocktail hours.
    “He’s a war vet,” Buddy insisted, changing our world forever.  My
brother and Buddy made eye contact; Buddy blinked first.  My brother
didn’t like him, thought he was weird to want to hang out with kids
younger than he was, even to just talk war talk.
    After Buddy’s history lesson, the gang went on the offensive.  When
Crazy Joe came out of his house in the morning we waited in ambush
across the street.  “Crazy Joe!  Crazy Joe, come get us!” we taunted,
braced to run. He giggled, saluted, and then began his tour of duty, up
and down the hill, screeching, arms cocked under the weight of an
invisible bayonet.
    We tired of the game and grew into other distractions.  I don’t know
when Crazy Joe stopped waiting under that bush.  When I was twelve the
hill was paved into a real town street, with layers of gravel and tar
smoothed over the rutted dirt of our bicycle paths; one morning I
realized that Crazy Joe no longer defended that area.
    But sometimes, freed from his real presence, I could imagine his
history, his private story of madness. I borrowed some of Buddy’s books
and learned new vocabulary:  trenches, mustard gas, voulez-vous,
foot-rot,  Sarajevo, Verdun, shell-shock;  I could imagine burning
lungs, sleeping in water filled trenches, bayoneting blue-eyed Germans.
    Crazy Joe disappeared from the hill, but took up residence in my
memory, becoming the soldier who survived the war, who came home, who
brought his never-ending war with him.
My brother did not survive Viet Nam, although he never really went
there.  Forty years after my last encounter with Crazy Joe I sit in my
brother’s new ranch house in Florida, trying to celebrate Christmas.  
The remnants of a family who have gathered more for funerals than
weddings, we have migrated to this warm place where snow never falls.
    It is past midnight and my sister-in-law, niece and husband are asleep
in their beds.  My brother, father and I, insomniacs,  wilt and yawn in
front of the television.  Christmas tree lights compete with the neon
glare of the large screen. My father thumbs through a year-old issue of
National Geographic. I shuffle the cards for another round of
solitaire.  My brother rewinds the tape in the VCR and begins to watch
“A Christmas Carol” for the third time that day.  Dicken’s story is one
of regret, and what is regret if not needing to live the past again and
again?  My brother especially likes the part where the ghost of
Christmas past shakes his chains at Scrooge and menaces him with what
might have been. There is a half-empty tumbler of whiskey in my
brother’s hand.
    My brother drinks too much.  If I were still the seven year old child
who taunted Crazy Joe I would use other words to describe my brother,
but because I am older and have learned to fear the knife-edge of
truth, I merely say, “My brother drinks too much.”
    We don’t speak often.  Once a year we hug and say ‘Be well, take care,
be happy.”  And between those well wishes there is much silence.  A
long time ago, I lost him. We lost each other.  Our childhood closeness
disappeared as surely as Crazy Joe had - it just wasn’t there one day.
    On the screen, Scrooge trembles and screeches in high-pitched horror. 
I lose another round of solitaire.  My father picks up a different
issue of National Geographic and yawns again.  When the movie ends, the
VCR switches itself off and a tv movie fills the screen.  It is a war
movie, filled with images of John Wayne aiming his rifle, carrying a
wounded buddy on his shoulder, enjoying intimate if prickly
conversations with a pretty nurse.
    My brother’s eyes are fixed on the screen.  He has seen this movie
more times than he has seen “A Christmas Carol,”  and it holds him
spellbound.  He pours another glass of whiskey.
    My father throws down the magazine and clears his throat.  “It wasn’t
like that,” he says, glaring at John Wayne. “It wasn’t like that,” says
my father who, fifty years later, still rarely speaks of his war. “We
weren’t grown men doing brave things,” he says. “We were scared little
boys doing what we were told we had to do.”
He gets up and disappears
down the dark hall, dragging his left leg a little from the stroke.  I
hear him in the bathroom, gargling. 

My brother is not a war vet. When the other eighteen and nineteen and twenty year olds of the town were going off to Viet Nam, he was left  behind. His National Guard regiment went. He did not. My mother did that. She performed miracles for her son, her only son. I do not know what officials she talked to, what words she used that other mothers did not, but she kept him home, kept him out of Nam.
    Naive about war, I had always assumed he had been pleased about this, 
happy to have been spared the napalm, the rat cages, the loud speakers
blaring Rolling Stones into a blackened jungle, the drugs that helped
the soldiers through another day.
    But when I look at my brother, there are tears in his eyes.
    “I should have been there,” he says.  His words are slurred, his eyes
still fixed on John Wayne.
    “Where?” I ask, confused.
    “In Nam.  My best buddies died there. I should have gone with them.”
    “So you could die, too?” I say. It is what my mother would have said.
The powerless of the words numb me.
    The wall between us  grows thicker.  We no longer share a common
language, when survival to one person looks like guilt to another.  I
have no words to understand his pain.
    We retrofit the past to give it an innocenceit never possessed.  I
am, even at this moment, romanticizing my memories of my brother, in my
mind’s eye the light falls more gently on his stricken face than it did
in reality at that moment.  But my other self who still lives in that
moment does not know this.  I am part of the dream, not yet the
dreamer, so I look at my brother whose eyes are red with longing for a
war that excluded him. I say the only thing that comes to mind.
    “Remember Crazy Joe?”
    He grins at me. “Good old Crazy Joe,” he says.


Crazy Joe is copyrighted 2006 by Jeanne Mackin

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The Riggi

a short story

Stephen Poleskie

We lived in the third floor apartment because my father had been left the building by his mother, and we could rent out the second floor for more money to pay the mortgage. The store on the ground floor, which had been my father’s mother’s bar until she died, and her third husband ran off with whatever money was in the bank, was rented to Mickey the barber.


From the window of the bedroom I shared with my Uncle Edward, I could see the coal mine just across Grove Street. The breaker had a tower made of iron beams, with two massive wheels on top. Steel cables went around these wheels, and when they turned a cage was lowered into the mineshaft. If I got up early enough, I could watch the miners go down. In the summer I saw them come up, their faces blackened from coal dust. In the winter the miners never came up before dark, so all I ever saw was the bobbing glow from the lanterns on their helmets as they wended their way home through the snow.


The two rear windows in our kitchen had a view of our small yard, in the center of which stood the tiny spruce tree my father had planted the day I was born. I would come back years later to find it higher than the house; and still later gone, cut down by the new owners to make way for a clothesline. A picket fence separated one side of the yard from the sidewalk and street. The back border was formed by a row of chicken coops and a garage. A wire fence ran down the other side, dividing us from the people next door. Their house was as tall as ours, so I could see nothing out that way but a wall. As work at the mine was slow, most of the bars on Grove Street had closed, the one underneath the neighbors being one of the few remaining. Its sign, which was lit up at night, cast a red glow on the walls my bedroom. In the morning huge trucks would come by and wake me up with a great racket, as they unloaded huge barrels of beer that were rolled down a ramp into the bar’s cold cellar.


Mostly, I stayed in my room all day and watched the activity on Grove Street out the window. I don’t remember going down to the street much until I was at least three years old, although I must have. I had long hair, which my mother set in curls. People who didn’t know me used to say: “Oh what a beautiful girl!” Then my sister was born, and I was changed back into a boy. I had my hair cut downstairs at Mickey’s. I remember crying because I was afraid it was going to hurt. My mother said: “If you don’t stop crying, I am going to give you to the riggi.”


I don’t know why he was called “the riggi,” or even if this is the correct spelling. I do remember he had a horse and wagon. His gray mare was the first large animal I had ever seen, except for the mules they took down into the mine that never came back up until they died. I saw them bringing a mule out once. It was lying on a cart. I asked my uncle if the mule was sick. “No, it’s dead,” he said. At the time I didn’t understand what he meant, and he didn’t explain. In my inchoate mind I could not yet distinguish the difference between what is from what is not.


My mother was always threatening to “give me to the riggi,” if I didn’t do something or other; go to sleep, eat my dinner, wash my hands. This made me feel especially worthless, as everything else she didn’t want she “sold” to the riggi; rusty pots and pans, broken sewing machines, anything that had outlived its usefulness. Was I not even worth as much as my mother’s junk? I wondered. Now my father, who had never been home much anyway, had gone off to fight in the war, leaving me here with mother, and my baby sister, who always cried to get everything she wanted given to her.


Before my mother began her threats I had waited in excitement for the riggi to appear, listening to the bellow of his horn as he made his way down Grove Street. Warm days found me hanging out my window, hoping to catch a glimpse of the treasures he had stowed in his cart. On those infrequent days when mother, or the lady from downstairs, would rush out with some small item to sell and the riggi would stop on our corner, my eyes would enjoy a special treat as they inventoried the contents of the rickety cart.


Now I no longer waited for the riggi with pleasure but with fear. Was today the day he would come for me? Had my mother made some secret pact with the gnarled old man to take me away as a punishment for something she perceived I had done wrong? At the first sound of his horn I interrupted my play and took flight, diving under the spruce trees, then crawling behind the peonies.


Small bugs circled my blinking eyelids as I peered through the picket fence. The riggi’s once cheerful horn had become a mournful dirge, a sound I remembered from my Aunt Beatrice’s funeral, the day I learned what “to be dead” meant. The horse and wagon was in front of our house now, but I wouldn't see the riggi until he passed the corner. I squatted lower in the flowers, making sure I had a clear path to the chicken coop. I planned my escape; run across the open yard, jump onto the water barrel, scramble on the coop, then over the garage roof, and get away by the back alley. My grandma lived at the end of the alley. She baked me cookies when I went to visit her, and would never allow me to be taken away by the riggi.


I could see him now. The old man had stopped on the corner and was just sitting silently on his wagon, waiting. My heart was pounding with horror. I had never seen the riggi’s eyes look so beady, so full of evil. He took out a red handkerchief: was this the signal? I prepared to flee. But my mother did not come down. The old man blew his nose in the handkerchief, and then put it back in his pocket.


“Giddy up!” he growled, giving his horse a crack with the reins.


Still crouched in my hiding place, I felt a sense of relief come over me. I listened to the bellow of his horn, and the clip-clop of hoofs, as the riggi slowly disappeared down Grove Street.






Stephen Poleskie is an artist and writer. His artworks are in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum and the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and the Victoria and Albert Museum, and the Tate Gallery in London, among others. He has published numerous short stories, and his biographical novel on the Civil War Balloonist T. S. C. Lowe is forthcoming from Frederic C. Beil, Publisher in 2006. Twelve of  Poleskie's short stories have been published as pamphlets by OnagerEditions.


The Riggi is from a collection of stories called Leaving Grove Street. The Riggi is copyrighted by Stephen Poleskie 2006.


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