Thursday, October 30, 2008

Gunter Arrives Before the Flood

The rain stopped for a minute or two and the sun seeped through a break in the clouds to illuminate a slice of the pavement in front of the Brasserie Lipp. Paul experienced a glint of light in the corner of his left eye and raised his head from his notebook to glimpse a momentary illumination in the street. Then, thunder rumbled, shaking the foundation of the old building, and the rain returned in iron sheets.

Before returning to his notes on the shipwrecked, Paul recognized a short figure in a wrinkled beige raincoat running across the wide boulevard. The man, with a large pipe clenched between his teeth, dodged cars and jumped puddles, heading inexorably toward the entrance of the Lipp. It was Günter, late as usual, he thought, running to catch up with a deadline he had already missed.

Günter stopped outside the restaurant, underneath its awnings, and peeled off his wet coat. He shook it several times before he folded it over his left arm. He faced the glass door and Paul watched as Günter’s dark eyes blinked, owl-like, twice behind black horn-rimmed spectacles. The well-lit Lipp and the dark rain-soaked night created a mirror out of the front door and Paul knew Günter could not see into the restaurant. Instead, he stood before the mirror and prepared himself for his late entrance. Gazing at his image, he ran a fat hand through his thick black hair, removed his wooden pipe, and deposited it into the right-hand pocket of his gray suit. Beside the crumpled suit, Günter wore a pale blue shirt, unbuttoned at the collar, gold cufflinks, and scuffed brown shoes. For finishing touches, he rubbed his left hand over his thick Nietzsche-like mustache and pulled the suit forward at the labels, as if to make room for his bullish neck and shoulders.

Once inside, the maître’d moved forward, his hand outstretched, as if Hemingway himself had entered the room. He took Günter’s coat and pulled out the banquette table to allow him to edge onto Paul's left. The two now sat like an old couple, ensconced in their place of honor, near the door. The placement was significant to all cognoscenti; the two mattered. Their place had been earned. The management placed them to see and be seen.

“May I have towel, Maurice?” asked Günter in his heavily accented French.

The maître’d snapped a finger and a middle-aged waiter with thinning hair dyed coal-black rushed forward with a linen towel. Günter rubbed his head down roughly and then asked for Paul’s comb. He pulled the thick hair back in several rough movements. Paul noted his hands were stained black and yellow from ink and nicotine.

“Your hands look as if you have been writing.” Paul said in German.

“I have. But not just writing, though. I am producing a baby, a monstrous baby. It’s something different from anything else I have written.”

The waiter re-appeared and asked if they wanted an aperitif.

Günter said, slapping his meaty hands together, “Let’s have two Kir Royales. I feel like celebrating the head-birth of my baby.”

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Paul at the Brasserie Lipp

Paul arrived at Brasserie Lipp around 18:30, about thirty minutes before his agreed meeting with Günter.

As the maître’d seated him in one of the banquettes in the entrance, cold rain drizzled down on the gray sidewalks, driving the tourists back to their hotels. He smiled wryly because he didn’t like tourists, especially American tourists; their congregating in front of the café to soak up the remaining DNA of the lost generation somehow offended him.

Paul was not immune to the allure of past writers’ haunts nor absorbing their DNA. That was why he was at the Lipp rather than some more modest café in his neighborhood. Perhaps that was the real reason why he looked down on the tourists huddling beneath the awning, rain dripping off their noses, waiting for a table that the haughty maître’d may or may not grant them, because he knew he was not much different from them. The only difference, he rationalized, was that he had published a handful of poems in Germany. Somehow that legitimized him, whereas these others were simply that-the others.

As he waited for Günter he extracted a moleskin notebook from the inside pocket of his tweed jacket and a Pelikan fountain pen he bought in a shop in the center of Frankfurt. He was working on something he believed might be important: a metaphysical conceit he thought of while reading Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe and the poetry of Emily Dickinson. He summarized the conceit easily and succinctly: poetry is a message in a bottle, cast into the sea by the poet, to float alone and find its own fate.

Of course, like every conceit, he built upon it and refined it. He even imagined writing a whole series of poems about a shipwrecked and his struggle to live within the confines of a deserted island.

In fact, this morning while shaving he thought of a corollary image, which he thought opened up a new avenue of philosophical development, an avenue which he wanted to discuss with Günter. Suppose a young, idealistic shipwreck throws a bottle into the sea and then over the years forgets about it. He goes about his work on the island, doing everything he can to survive. Years later, he is walking on the beach at dusk, when he sees a glint in the sand. He hurries to it and digs it out with his staff. He uncovers a blue-green glass bottle. He examines it and discovers its mouth is sealed with beeswax; he peels the seal back with his long yellow nails and extracts a piece of rolled bark. On the bark he reads a message in smoky charcoal: “I sailed on the HMS Manifest Destiny in 1952. The ship sank in the China Sea; all hands were lost except me. Shipwrecked.”

The man is startled. He pities the poor man, who, so many years ago, became shipwrecked at the same time as he. A man just like him cast a message into the world but unfortunately his message landed on another deserted island. He wonders if he still lives, and then it dawns on him that he is the shipwrecked. With this realization, his hope crumbles and he begins to sob; tears stream down his face. He is alone and the message in the bottle has “unconcealed” his condition in the world. He is a shipwrecked on a deserted island. The sea surrounds him and marks his boundaries. The sky forms his roof and he is mortal, fated to die alone. The help he waited for will not come. With the truth now revealed, he returns to his life on the island, where he dwells.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Message in a Bottle

The blue message
in a clear bottle
by a layer
of yellow beeswax
chewed slowly
in the green spring
in black winter
my red shipwreck
to the other.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Thoughts on the Primal Word

The primal word arrests our attention when it arrives in our conscious mind unbidden and unexpected. It appears first as glyphs or images that one may understand through emotion.

The primal word once risen exists for a brief moment-like the may fly-in a world similar to Babel, a mythical city where all spoke the language of the one.

The primal word appears as an emotional hieroglyph that the one translates; just as the ancient Egyptian priests translated the hieroglyph into demotic.

The primal word is soaked in emotion and meaning, which the one must distill in order to imbibe and then understand the message intellectually.

The primal word over time and through translation loses its emotional power; however, it may carry an intellectual power thereafter.

Sometimes the primal word is adopted by the one and concretized into a religion or an ideology.

In order to remain authentic the one must avoid the concrete image and seek new appearances of the primal word.

The story of the Babel Tower is an object lesson on the concretization of the primal word. Its destruction is a metaphor for a methodology to revive the emotion and meaning of the word. Sometimes neologisms are necessary to revive thoughts and shatter concrete ideas.

Heidegger's language and Celan's poetry are examples of a movement to make an opening for the primal word and to re-make old language.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


on Ouroboros' tail
and greets
in his biremes
and Cleopatra
in her rug.

Die Welt

The world
like bread
is made fresh
each day.
it lasts
no longer
than memory.
with reason
it blackens
and crumbles.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


The silver trout,
like a slender thread,
through an oblong eye
of a brass needle,
and threads
an Egyptian done
to a Greek's doing
beyond the edge
of a Roman sea.