Jan Oskar Hansen
Tell a Stranger.
Midmorning, the sun was shoveling
aside clouds that threatened to shed
rain, clearing a path that got bigger
and bigger till it had the sky for itself;
that was ok as it was in the middle
of August, when I murmured to her:
“I love you”
Even though I meant it at the time
I managed to embarrass myself by
sounding insincere. Demoralized
when she laughed and hit me with
her handbag; I felt like a speck of
dust-more- a broken matchstick in
an ashtray full of masculine cigars
The last I saw of her was a proud
neck entering the bus going back
Beck Street. Walked into Rose &
Crown for a drink and to weigh up
my future. “I adore you” I said to
a woman sitting on her own, her
eyes lit up, she had a pretty smile.
ABOUT THE BEAR
Last night a bear was rummaging through my back yard, had apparently lumbered down from the mountains, explanation enough, I guess,
but the foothills of the nearest mountains are a hundred miles away,
and I try to imagine this big guy making his way inconspicuously into the city,
taking back roads most of the time, I figure, but still
at some point having to get on Route 1, or maybe cutting in from Route 63,
but either way, how far could he get without being noticed, even in this town,
where we value our own privacy, if not so much that of their neighbors;
even so, you’d think a big lug of a bear would be reason enough to pull the truck over and– and what? Now that I think of it, there’d be nothing to do,
just seeing a bear slouching along, you might as well just keep going,
though I think I might be tempted to hit the horn and wave as I passed,
and wouldn’t it be something if he waved back, maybe that would be reason enough to stop, but probably not, and then before you know it there’s a bear
knocking over the trash cans sitting in somebody’s back yard.
The truth: there was no bear in my yard.
Or there was, but it was in a dream I had, and since I have so few dreams I remember I tried to convince myself it was real, and convince you, too.
I suppose it might have something to do with a story I saw not long ago on the news,
about a bear that kept wandering down from North Jersey to romp in the suburbs,
back three times now, to the same neighborhood where he plays in the swimming pools while the people in their houses videotape it from behind drawn curtains,
and wait for the ASPCA, and the local police surround the yard
like maybe they’ve trapped a terrorist, but the Department of Homeland Security hasn’t gotten around to a memo about this yet, so its up to the dog catchers,
who show up with poles and nets and a tranquilizer gun,
and what they find is the bear has an ear tag already, and a computer check,
and sure enough, this is the same fellow who dropped in on these neighbors before,
and for the third time now they had to arranged a ride for the sleeping intruder back to the woods of North Jersey . But let me tell you, I’m ready for him,
if he ever does show up in my yard, I’ve got room, a big empty house.
I’ve been here twenty years, and no one’s taken much notice,
so he’d be welcome to stay, and the yard is full of berry bushes,
and I think we could fit a pool between the fruit trees somehow.
I mean, if he really wants to live in town.
There was a time when humans gathered in squares,
parks and stadiums to laugh together
and all would explode in loud giggles looking at one another.
There were those who laughed to become angry
and those who laughed to combat it.
Yet others, from faraway places,
laughed for the spontaneous pleasure of the body
and fell to the floor laughing themselves silly.
Others laughed at each other rather than at themselves.
Their laughter was close to black humor.
Others laughed with plays on words.
There were those who exorcised pain through the medium of laughter
making fun of themselves.
Where laughter did not exist,
humans lived more given to the metaphysical.
They would stop in front of a mirror,
and they would neither speak nor make funny faces.
Translated from the Spanish by Stanley H. Barkan with Wanda Rivera and Roy Cravzow
her father’s ghost
my wife says
I know you
sort of thing
the other night
I woke up
my father’s ghost
as she slept
he just stood
at her and
he was gone
I don’t tell her
leaving out for
the 4am – 4pm
at the factory
how I stand
why it is
but I only
nod my head
offer my wife
a thin smile
and tell her
is still around
Charles P. Ries
Is writing trying to kill me?
my life before I’m a famous novelist
Writing … why do I need you? A hobby for sadomasochists. I got another four rejections yesterday; that makes 150 (on my first book)—so far. Maybe 150 literary agents know something I don’t? Is it time for a new hobby? One I can play without agents? Maybe I should start spending more quality time with my girlfriend?
But then there are those days when the sun shines and I dig out from my blanket of rejection … when I feel the inner steel of patient, relentless persistence … when I jump out of bed and say, “My work doesn’t suck. I just need to find one agent who loves me.” And on those mornings I prance to my computer with hope in my heart and I query onward! I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and gosh darn it, some agent is going to love me! So today I sped past my 190th query with confidence in my new and improved manuscript that I’ve been working on (in its many forms) for eight years. Truly, writing is not a destination, it is a journey.
Dear Diary, I’m giving up writing and joining the circus. Yes, I will leave it all: the paper and pens, the publishers and agents who can’t love my inner fantasy, and I’ll join the circus. The make-up, big nose and fancy pants will help me overcome my feelings of obscurity. I will create an identity grander then my literary art. I will have something worth writing about. I will marry the fat lady, she’ll give birth to a midget, I’ll learn to swallow swords, make friends with a contortionist, turn my pens into pretzels, and finally live like a real man.
I have become a student of the query letter and kick-ass synopsis. (Eight years of practice makes us good at something.) Anyone who thinks this business is about just good writing needs a group intervention. “Charles, we all love you, but we are here to tell you, you have a problem. You have lost sight of reality. You will never be published! We’re taking your pens away. Please put your pen down slowly. You need to get a life!”
Life! Schmife! I have something better then a life, I have a novel! It has everything: love, mysticism, folly, resurrection, laughs, and the guy gets the girl. It’s a moneymaker; I just know it.
Dear Diary, I have been re-evaluating my existence. It seems I have been created to work, go to the gym, drink Starbucks non-fat, no-whip, extra-hot mochas and obsess about my writing. I’m a do-aholic; flawed for sure. People born under the sign of the twin fish are pathetic, restless dreamers. I’m having doubts about the quality of my writing. I got four rejections yesterday. One day God will run out of rejections, and bingo—I’m in. I just have to hold out. But to make things worse, recently I’ve been haunted by visions of a muse wearing a black, full length mink coat. Mink really gets me going. She’s been following me everywhere—even when I scrub the kitchen floor, feed the birds, vacuum the house, and feel pathetic about my writing. There she is, in mink. Scary how she haunts me, loves me. Me, unlovable, useless, pathetic me. Yes, poor pitiful me.
Yes, pain and rejection are often the food of rambling prose poems that we called our “journal” in high school. But then we all rose above high school angst and heartache and turned it into art. We became writers. We left the comfort of secretive journals for the adventure of rejection. Yes, rejection. It’s not quite cancer. But the other day I got a letter from a publisher telling me the manuscript I’d sent her wasn’t avant-garde enough for her. Why didn’t she just send me a letter bomb instead!
Dear Diary: I’m not avant-garde. I knew it! Maybe I’m a closet Republican. I guess it doesn’t matter that I wear blue jeans, black t-shirts, write poetry, and have a goatee. Elaine suggested I start to view myself as “Nonvant–garde” and build a movement around nonvant-garde poetry. I love Elaine, eternal keeper of my diminishing confidence.
We make chicken soup out of chicken shit until the gravy train arrives. I recently wondered aloud to a friend, “Am I the guy who is thinks he is creating art, but who (after waking from a dream) realizes he has been banging his head with a lead pipe?” The Aztec high priests gleefully ripped beating heart after beating heart from the chests of their faith-filled followers after convincing them (talk about true believers) that this life was just a dream (easy for a high priest to say). So is my hope of writing fame only a dream? Is my persistence just an addiction to an impossible goal?
My girlfriend, Elaine accommodates my periodic writing crisis like Mother Theresa. She hugs me and says, “Look Charles you could have worse obsessions than sitting around endlessly writing funny, weird stuff. You could watch the ESPN Sports Classics channel and drinks beer all day. Who cares if you ever get published?” She’s right of course – she’s always right; but the other day when I got e-mails from two agents (TWO!) who wanted to see the full manuscript of my novel. I danced with eternal hope. I pranced anew to my computer ready to continue creative battle. It only takes one person to believe – just one person to open the door for a manuscript to be sold. How could I ever have thought of giving up writing to join a circus? But… maybe an Aztec High Priest! I could get it going with ceremonial dress of feathers, gold and turquoise. Sharpen my sacrificial knife and invite a few agents over for dinner.