One of the first pieces in this issue of roger is a lovely poem by Shuntaro Tanikawa, translated by Diane Furtney and Asuka Itaya, entitled “One of the Haniwa.” Haniwas are the clay figurines and statues, mostly used for funerary purposes, of the 3rd to the 6th Century, that show the history of Japan. Writes the poet, translated,
All emotions as well as quiet,
are raining behind your face,
which bears the weight
of two thousand years
behind your deep eyes.
Your mouth is tightened
by a great secret.
There, too, is a poem from Boris Pasternak, more famous for his having written Dr. Zhivago, but perhaps not justifiably so. The poem here, “First Snow That Will Undoubtedly Melt,” translated by Olga Zilberbourg, is a wonder to read, at least fifty years after its creation:
Dry, quiet weather.
On the street, five steps away,
The winter, blushing, has paused.
She hesitates to enter.
It’s a brilliant poem, both for its composition and its feel of the timelessness of winter and snow. I extend many thanks to Zilberbourg for having translated this jewel of the past, so far back yet current in its theme.
Also here is a sobering poem by Dan Albergotti, “Ghazal for Buildings,” clearly referring to the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center. Writes the poet, “We all know well how to destroy. / We know that better than we know building.”
Albergotti’s writing is phenomenal, his brief descriptions holding so much meaning and depth that they go far beyond the parameters of his poem. Though the magazine was assembled in the Spring of 2009, the the poem (“How much could we destroy before we see / each temple, mosque, or church is just a building?”) echoes the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque” storm currently brewing in New York City. Ironic? Yes, and beautiful besides.
Edward Hardy’s story “Appointment” is a hilarious look at a very serious subject. The wife, a lawyer, and husband are on their way to an appointment, presumably to another lawyer’s office. The discussion in the car – for they always talk best when they’re in the car – is about ‘pulling the plug’ for each other, should they find themselves in a coma, and what happens if both of them are in a coma. They’ve already decided that her sister will take care of their son, affectionately called Bug.
“look, if we’re both in the coma, I’ll leave the coma and do an end run, pull the plug, and sneak back in. Did you already tell your brother he’s pulling the plug?”
“I wrote the E-mail, but I didn’t send it.”
“Nobody tells anybody anything in your family.”
“That’s how we know it’s my family.” She takes out her phone. “I’m calling Mom.” Ice pings against the roof.
“Yeah, why not your mom?”
“She’s not there”
“OK,” he says, “you’re in a coma and I’m dead and your sister already has Bug – ”
“Yup. She’s been taking care of him since the accident, for months, but if it’s her, she’ll have to find a sitter, fly up from Florida, and then pull the plug on me. This will not work.”
“We’ll put a friend on the list.”
“Our friends here would kill us if we made them pull the plug. Wait, you mean fly somebody in? Import the plug-puller?” She starts scrolling through her phone.
“Right. But who would pay for that? Is there some coma-induced-plug-pulling-travel-escrow thing we need to worry about, too?”
Hardy’s writing here is pitch-perfect and downright silly. Yet he also deals deftly with one of the most serious discussions a couple can have. It’s brilliant.
Finally, Beazley Kanost’s story “Any Shelf” is by far my favorite of all that roger contains in this issue, with the possible exception of the oil and canvas reproduction of “Olympia Splendid” by Heidi Reszies Lewis. In “Any Shelf,” though, literary allusions abound, and this, for me, trumps everything else.
Writes Kanost, “Reading while asleep is not recommended and if you do, it’s a difficult book.” She continues, “Any book is in darkness, where it takes place, such as the one you thought you’d marked, moving it in directions obtained by stealing the passing eye, holding it hostage, taking flight and reflecting on the appearance of one character so horrible and beautiful that it is too much, and suddenly the governess arrives.”
And later, “In a chapter, as it is turned, the page rises, enjoying a keen sign of flight, often to the attic or tower room, where confusion ensues, as spinning and identity take many forms.” I loved this story-part-literary-travelogue, and was simply enthralled by Kanost’s vision, and its role in roger’s overall feel.