Scholars of Haida

There is out there an island called in the language of that place, ‘Boundary Between Worlds’ because the inhabitants dwell on the shores of forested mountains, fertile oceans and rain filled skies. The word for walking and paddling is the same. On that island the colour of the world is the glimmer on a raven’s wing and daylight is kept in a box inside a box inside a box. There are boxes within boxes. And on these boxes within boxes people paint parts of stories of a world where there is no distinction among the souls of humans, animals and spirits but each may wear a different skin and wearing that skin may don another and another. With these skins these souls assume the skills of birds, whales and wolves, bears and butterflies. As for me I’ve never been there but I’ve read in more than one book about some stories transcribed by a traveler, related to him by a translator as they sat with the ones retelling the stories they’d heard in the dialects of that place. In our language there is no word for someone with the skills of Skaay and Ghandl.

Seal Sneezes (Breakwater, Vic BC)

A long path, two white fences, the sea each side. So long it seems to lead forever into night. Yet there is a bend in it midway and it leads to a small lighthouse signalling port. Reflected row of wharehouse lights. Town lights on a far horizon. Frogmen emerge on the stony shore, wriggling out of yellow flippers. The lapping water on the wall. A seagull waking from a nightmare. It’s one thing to see something move far ahead, a couple emerging from the dark distance and to exchange only an awkward glance as you pass. It’s another to stop at the bend to check for seals sleeping below and notice a solitary figure has been walking behind you. You can’t linger on the railing but must walk on to keep a distance. A seal sneezes so you stop again to look over the rail and notice that person’s pace is quicker than yours and they are gaining on you, and so you must hasten on again. What thoughts could bring a person alone on this path? Homicide or suicide? Might be in a moment fighting or talking about death. Hearing that song, Miserere, the first time, well I don’t believe in God, but I know there was a God when that song was written. Momentarily men ask and angels answer. All heaven in a well crafted high C and chord resolution. Milton attempts to justify the ways of God to men. Satan says, “The mind is its own place and in itself can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.” What will the angels do when God is dead? What did the angels do? What do they do? Some places are haunted by the ghost of God. Here flock orphaned angels singing praises to nothing. Soon enough the red lighthouse is near, one fisherman on it. The lighthouse must be touched in order to have been reached. Quietly laying a hand on the stone wall. Another voice calling in Mandarin from below, beyond the rail. This fisherman mumbling back.

The Greatest Tragedy

Three of Michael Cacoyannis’ films are a trilogy of the ancient Greek tragedian Euripides’ plays. The first time I saw one of these movies, Iphigenia, I was stunned that I could have lived so long unaware of the most well wrought drama ever written. Euripides was the last of the three great ancient Greek tragedians whose work remains to us (Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides). He was deeply critical of social conventions and his investigation of human dilemmas are as profound as any philosophy. He is well known for the technique of building dramatic tension by letting the audience know what the character on stage does not, as well as showing the detailed day to day lives and psyches of heroic figures. This is executed to devastating effect in Iphigenia – it is harrowing to watch innocent, stoic Iphigenia greet her father. Tragedy is not just a bad ending, it’s a choice that must be made even either option leads to something bad.
Whether due to budget or artful intention, Cacoyannis skillfully uses minimal staging and landscape settings to strip back these plays, letting the raw power of the word in an actors mouth speak for itself across two thousand and three hundred years. With mouths like that of exquisite Irene Papas’, starring in all three films (as Iphigenia’s mother, Clytemnestra, as Helen and as Elektra), viewers learn the meaning of gravitas and pathos.
The chronological events in the plays is the opposite to the order in which Cacoyannis filmed them. You could watch them in either order, but I recommend the following, as I happened to find them, in the opposite order to their filming, and in the order of events in the play:

The Greek army, amassed and ready to sail for Troy, wait for the wind to change. During a hunt a deer sacred to Diana is accidentally killed. A terrible sacrifice must be made.

The Trojan Women
Troy has fallen. The women protest their fate.

King Agamemnon returns victorious from Troy and falls. His son and daughter must live in hiding from their mother.


an afternoon sapeur
a cuban cigar
a saxophone, accordion
and sweet saudade voice
a wife too many chats away
and children silent
hip hop tags
communist posters
a coin for the case
two dogs brawl
two gis for Judo
talk along their way
falling off a bicycle laughing
chanting ¡Beso! ¡Beso! ¡Beso!
he does, she smiles
English, German, French, Spanish
textiles over one shoulder
feed the baby on the other
street lights come on
the convent wall blue or yellow
in the end at the hotel
through louvers that can’t be closed
it goes from sobbing to fucking

Orwell’s Honeymoon

I have finally attained the privilege of being a reader of the TLS as it has fallen generously from the table of my supervisor, as a child lets slip gristle to a dog, who, perhaps through some subterfuge of generosity, the most generous kind where the recipient is lead to believe they owe no debt of gratitude, inexplicably found himself regularly sent a duplicate copy. I mention this only because the present edition includes an article mentioning a biography that mentions this extraordinary detail, brief but speaking volumes about a certain writer’s character:

Orwell complained of his honeymoon that he’d only done two days work out of seven. These two days work gave us ‘Shooting An Elephant’.

‘Shooting An Elephant’ is one of his best works, and among the best of English short fiction. This anecdote is framed as a criticism of Orwell’s neglect of his wife, celebrating the fact he was only human and no saint. If he had only realised what a few days with his beloved could produce on return to the desk, how much improved might his oeuvre have been? An alternative inference: if 5 days with his wife could produce ‘Shooting An Elephant’, how many nights of marital bliss went into 1984 and Animal Farm? All cleverness aside, can’t an author know themself all too well and make a joke? What’s more, deep involvement and dedication in works, whatever they may be, is something people may love about each other. Not everyone wants to be their lover’s work.

Semantic Radicals

In Chinese writing there are usually two parts or ‘radicals’ in a character, a semantic (meaning) and a phonetic (sound) radical. If there is a phonetic part, that corresponds to the spoken word, which has a meaning, why would you need a semantic part? There are many homophones in Chinese – words that sound the same but have different meanings. In speech this might be ok, as the specific meaning may be determined by the context of what you are talking about or where you are, or what you are doing, and if there is any confusion you can ask for clarification. But what if you want to just write a short message? One of the main things about writing is that the author is not present, it can be read without them. Writing can also be taken out of its context – the message may appear at any place and time. So the unspoken semantic radical is required to disambiguate the meaning.

Schomburg Fjords vol. 1

Of the most enviable writing there are two kinds. The first is your own writing, written by somebody else. You think, this was my idea but you took it. If only I had spent those extra hours after work, if only I’d known I could get away with it, if only it was me in the publisher’s pocket, if I only had the chance. The second makes you shake your head thinking, I could never have written this, never even imagined. Every page of Zachary Schomburg’s Fjords vol. 1 starts like the first and ends like the second.