FREE FALL IN BLUE: AN ICARUS TRYPTYCH (
After Brueghel’s Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, Chagall’s The Fall of Icarus, and Drew’s The Falling Man) – by Kim Peter Kovac

Chagall and Brueghel stroll
lower Manhattan’s narrow streets
speaking of shades of blue in skies and wings
when the urban hustle is halted cold
by a plane flying into a tower, igniting
the day branded forever as “nine-eleven”. 

They watch the flames and smoke,
second plane breaching south tower,
debris falling from a thousand feet,
then audibly gasp when they realize
what they thought of as debris
includes humans, alive in free fall.

The count would never be exact—
8? 18? 132? 200?—jumped
from above the tower’s flaming gash,
escaping (right word?) being crushed
in the collapse; perhaps lucky (right word?)
to have been so close to the sun.

The next morning, over coffee in midtown
the disarticulate artists analyze a photo
in the paper, an image of a man
facing straight down, leg cocked, arms flared
slightly, posture almost in repose,
in the midst of his ten-second flight

with white tunic still in place, graceful,
embracing his fate, a vertical dive
framed against the vertical stripes
of the towers; curiously more artistic
than journalistic: a man frozen and still,
yet actually moving at one-fifty per.

After Chagall and Brueghel process
their reactions, they begin to study
this iconic image, an Icarus
so like theirs.  They ask for refills
and sketch on napkins refinements
for newly limning the boy with wings.   

They study the falling-man photo
and scour memories of each other’s
paintings, knowing that a camera
is no more truthful than a brush;
in the right hands each sculpts
a specific and edited moment.

Bare leg splashing in a pastoral ocean,
blue wings flailing over a village,
a human arrow with high-tops still on:
an Icarus triptych falling through blue,
each image indelibly searing
the eyes of those who remain. 

 

About the Poet: 

Kim Peter Kovac works nationally and internationally in theater for young audiences with an emphasis on new play development and networking.  He tells stories on stages as producer of new plays, and tells stories in writing with lineated poems, prose poems, creative non-fiction, flash fiction, haiku, haibun, and microfiction, with work appearing or forthcoming in print and online in journals from Australia, India, Dubai (UAE), England, Scotland, Singapore, South Africa, and the USA.

Eva’s Comments:

Kim Peter Kovac’s poem, inspired by three images — Brueghel’s Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, Chagall’s The Fall of Icarus, and Drew’s The Falling Manspeaks of a day that the world has come to know and remember as 9/11. 

In this issue of CarpeArte Journal, we would like to take the time to remember the fallen victims of this tragic event. 

Kovac submitted his work, ‘After Brueghel’s Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, Chagall’s The Fall of Icarus, and Drew’s The Falling Man’, along with three images that form the title of his poem. In picking Chagall, the editors at CarpeArte felt it to be the best segue into the poem, although the poem has been inspired by three images, all to do with a falling man. Kovac’s piece is a great example of how our psyches are affected and influenced by the pictures we see around us. It testifies to the power of the image. 

Marc Chagall (1887 – 1985) was a Russian Jewish painter, born in Vitebsk, in today’s Belarus. When he was born, Belarus was part of the Russian Empire. Named as Moishe Shagal, he later changed his name to Marc Chagall upon arriving in Paris in 1910. There, he met other Russian emigre painters such as Wassily Kandinsky, Chaim Soutine and Ossip Zadkine. It could be down to these like-minded friends that Chagall made up his mind to stay in Paris because when he first arrived, he did not like the fast-paced metropolitan life of the city. He felt displaced in Paris for many reasons but he would return there again and finally find roots in France. As an expatriate, I understand what being displaced can do to one’s psyche and how it can lead to one’s search for rootedness.

In the years between 1914 and 1922, Chagall returned to Vitebsk and was forced to remain there to wait out the First World War. Chagall did find a place in Paris and he did become a major influencer in the art world—the Surrealism Movement—although he never considered himself a surrealist. ‘The Fall of Icarus’ is considered a Surrealist work due to its dream-like ambiane and imagery. In psychoanalysis, the act or fear of falling is associated with anxiety and with dis-ease. Chagall’s life would testify to these states of unease. As a writer, I understand how creation can come from the depths of our traumatised psyches and unconscious processing in order to free the mind from pain.

Vitebsk, where he was born and raised, is predominantly a Jewish shtetl or ghetto where Russian Jews were confined. Marked by his beliefs and life in the shtetl, Chagall’s first paintings in Paris were of his experiences living in Vitebsk. They were also influenced by the Old Masters whose works he’d have seen at the museums as well as by his contemporaries’ who were Pablo Picasso, George Braque and Robert Delauney. Viewers will notice that some of Chagall’s works are recognisably Cubist and Impressionistic in styles. But he didn’t take well to these Movements in art. He preferred the freer form of art creation that could be called Expressionism and Symbolism, what Guillaume Apollinaire called “supernatural” and then later, “surreal”. 

It can be said that Chagall was always a painter willing to learn from others of his time and those who came before him. In Russia, his works, although still remaining Cubist and Impressionistic in forms, were influenced too by Michail Larionov and Natalia Goncharova whose works are categorised under the Rayonism Movement.  Later, he would also be influenced by the Suprematists, like Kazimir Malevich and El Lissitzky whom he met when he was Director of the Vitebsk Academy of Art.

Always refusing to be categorised and remaining an advocate of the free experimentation and creation of art, Chagall’s oeuvre is expansive. I admire him for his tenacity and his audacity which carried him through his life’s journeys from Russia, to Western and Eastern Europe to the United States of America and finally back to Western Europe, again, where he left this world. From being apolitical and just painting for the sake of creating art, he took to art as an expression and commentary of his political ideas, forced by the anti-Semitic attitudes of the current religio-political climate he lived in: he depicted the pain and sadness felt by his people, he condemned the Bolshevik revolution and he brought light to the connections between Judaism and Christianity in a seminal work, ‘White Crucifixion’, which questioned and condemned the absurdity of selective persecution and the inanity of war.  

In more ways than one, Chagall led a traumatic life. In America, he would lose his wife and muse of 29 years, Bella Rosenfeld-Chagall, to a viral infection, in 1944. Saddened by this huge loss, he would stop painting for a whole year while he grappled with the void in his life. (Their marriage, initially opposed by Bella’s parents due to Chagall’s lack of financial means, was studded with uncertainty and hardship, as well as, joy amidst sacrifices. It was at the birth of Ida Chagall, the couple’s daughter, that Marc Chagall found reconciliation with his in-laws.) It was not until he met Virginia Haggard McNeill that his creative juices flowed again. Returning to Paris in 1946, Chagall continued to work on a piece, ‘The Falling Angel’ which he had started in 1923, finally completing it in 1947. This piece of work can be read as one that was conceived in the psyche of the artist since his emigration from the Soviet Union, which remained latent in his unconscious, until it was time for the images to be resurfaced in a more mature phase of his life. At this point, Chagall was already 60 and he yearned for a quieter life. It seemed that finishing ‘The Fallen Angel’ brought a sense of catharsis signified by his yearning for tranquillity. He moved to Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, in 1950, where he continued to paint. 

At this point, his relationship with Virginia McNeill took a turn for the worst and she left him in 1952. Chagall must’ve felt such a sense of abandonment at this point but he didn’t take long to find another companion in Valentina Brodsky, whom he lovingly christened Vava. 

Vava had a forceful and sinister presence in Chagall’s life. A former Jew, she converted to Christianity and was adamant that Chagall did the same. He was amused at her attempts at converting him but remained stoically Jewish, and since he was never really a devout Jew in the first place, any attempts to Christianise him was taken with a pinch of salt; he also defied the portrayal of living creatures visually, something never done by the Jewish Orthodox, by always inserting a cow and/or other animals in his works from the moment he started painting, since his earlier works depicted the daily lives of the people in Vitebsk. It must be said that his Jewish identity cannot be missed visually since he often inserted Judaic imagery and symbolisms mixed with Christian ones in his later works. It can be said that by this point, Chagall had stopped being actively political,  yet he would still insert Judaic symbolisms and live creatures in the most unlikely of places where he was commissioned to work—the ceiling of the Paris Opera (1963) is one example and the images of animals in a stained glass window for the synagogue of the Hadassh-Hebrew University Medical Center in Jerusalem (1960-62) is another. 

The image of angels suspended upside down in mid-air has come to represent many of Chagall’s works, just have cows and donkeys. In ‘The Falling Angel’ (La Chute de l’angle), viewers will see the central figure of an angel falling head first, with one eye gazing out at us. Superimposed onto the feathers of his wing is a mother-child duo—the mother holds the child in a tight embrace. Other figures are found—a man holding a scroll, symbolising a rabbi and the Torah, a crucified Christ, are examples. There is a lone candle, a fiddle and a cow. There are again rooftops and houses which are consistent features in many of his works. 

In ‘The Fall of Icarus’, we see again this angel free falling head first. This time, the red hues are used to depict the people on the land, many of whom have arms opened wide, as if to receive this falling angel. Those familiar with this Greek myth will know that Icarus flew too near the sun melting his wax wings plummeting to his death; the story is also the story of a genius, Daedalus, who lived in regret for having caused the death of his son, Icarus. There is a dream-like quality to this oil on canvas, so it is understandably accurate to say that this is a surrealist piece. This was painted 10 years before Chagall died. During this time, he was living in Vence, France. He has continued to paint even at this mature age but at this point, his works have given way to mythology and fantasy. The use of Icarus as the main character or protagonist in this piece is multi-layered. The myth of Icarus symbolises hubris, shame, lust, regret and ingenuity gone wrong. Estranged from his daughter, Ida, Chagall could be expressing his regret, shame, lust and hubris in this iconic work. 

Marc Chagall passed away in 1985 in St Paul, Vence. Having never converted to Christianity and remaining a fervent adherent of Judaism until his death, Vava had him buried in a Catholic cemetery, his grave marked by a gravestone in the shape of the cross. Ida Chagall, who attended her father’s funeral, insisted on the Kaddish, the mourning prayer, being read at the end of the ceremony. In a surreal and uncanny way, Chagall’s death was marked by the insertion of Judaic and Christian symbolisms, much like his works of art were. 

Chagall, Marc (1975), The Fall of Icarus, Oil on Canvas, 213 x 198 cm (Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, France.)

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Trap by F. Z. Majidi

I was awaiting a bus for forty minutes under the rain. Compared to last year this spring was a hot one, but that day it was raining like hell. I should’ve had a ridiculous appearance in a short cotton dress soaked through. Raindrops were moisturizing parts of my skin that I had forgotten all about.

There was a sweet scent on my mind, shifting from pastry to roses, from roses to chocolate. Feeling drowsy, I could smell a touch of burning wood among other odors as well.  

2:30 p.m. The street was empty. There was only a young lady ten meters away from me, chain-smoking under the torrential rain with an indomitable will. She was sitting on the forest-green metal railings. A dying cigarette on her crimson lips, crossed legs, a silver lipstick lighter in her right hand, flicking away a half-smoked cigarette in the broad highway beneath the railings every two minutes. Both ends of the five-lane highway underneath overlapped with the horizon, where she had turned her head to stare at. Sun was clouded in the region she was investigating with her brown gaze. Her knitted brown blouse, black boots, and black leather skirt were indicating she knew about the weather.

As she smoked all her cigarettes – insofar as could be smoked – she shook the cigarette packet to assure it was depleted and then threw the packet into the highway. Before I could object, she grabbed her cream-colored leather bag and hurled it toward the high-speed chain of cars below the railings. My irritation turned into curiosity: if I were in her place, I would definitely look down to see the result. She was gazing at an unknown point in the thick and dark clouds instead, as if waiting for something to happen. Her long fingers with polished black nails found the cream jacket hanging from the railings, grasped it and flung the crumpled piece of linen toward the horizon. Was I supposed to say something? What was she thinking? That urban highways were some sort of giant pipes for washing away our wastes?

She removed her silver necklace and black boots, throwing them as well onto the highway; her face was expressionless as if she was doing all this in her bedroom on a normal evening. A surreal wet painting. I could see the white skin of her head under the sparse threads of her dark brown hair. She raised her head to watch the black clouds and stayed like that for a short while. A little push, and she flung herself onto the highway. The last piece of waste. I stayed in my place for a while, confused, not knowing what to do. As I came to my senses, I decided to call the police but there were no sensible sentences in my mind. I was left there alone, with an irresistible gravitational source emanating from the highway below my feet.

I swallowed and moved toward the green railings. It took me a lifetime to screw up my courage and lower my head. My eyes started hunting for her, but she was nowhere; as if she hadn’t fallen at all. While inspecting the broad highway, the old orange-colored bus arrived, accelerating in my direction.

The first thing I felt was the weight of its left tire, climbing my left leg from behind. I turned my gaze and the orange color wavered before my eyes, contaminated with my blood fountaining, blinding me. My hands grabbed the green railings as the huge metal monster tried to pull me under. In a blink, all its weight was on my waist. I closed my eyes, heard my bones smashing and felt my flesh ripping apart while screaming at the top of my lungs. Angry tires reached the railings, hitting it hard. I was on the verge of unconsciousness, pressed amid the two belligerent metal parties, watching the highway. My eyes were seeking her, but tears and blood had limited my view. The warm blood-drops were falling from my nostrils and chin into the highway. The bus was still pushing the railings.

I blinked, clearing the tears. She was nowhere to be found. The bus drove its wheels on the deformed railings and lifted what had remained of my body. I was no longer a physical entity, flying off the railings and falling into the highway. My eyes still searching.

 

About the Author:

Z. Majidi is – currently – a Ph.D. student at Sapienza University of Rome, living in Rome, studying Astrophysics and Space Sciences. She writes in her free time and recently has started publishing her short stories. She won 2010 Kharazmi prize for writing the novelette “Eternity” and one of her short stories has appeared in Flash Fiction Magazine.

 

Eva’s Comments:

Majidi is a tri-lingual writer who writes in Persian as well as English. ‘Trap’ stayed in my unconscious for many months while my dreamspace attempted to find an image that would accompany this compact piece endowed with supernatural intensity and the power of a superbly written flash piece.

As the summer months sailed by and with imminent autumnal days in the horizon, I started to remember how blue I would feel as winter approaches. Pablo Picasso’s Blue Period came immediately to mind.

Pablo Ruiz Picasso was born in Malaga, Spain in 1881, baptised a Catholic, with a long list of names in honour of various saints and relatives, and passed away an atheist in 1973. The Blue Period is a term used to categorize his works produced between 1901 and 1904 in Paris. These works are defined by their predominantly monochromatic hues and sombre tones. Picasso had a difficult time selling these works initially although his series from the Blue Period has become synonymous with his name. I suspect viewers at that time were perturbed by these canvases–of dark greens, greys and blues– so devoid of the usual exuberant and cheerful block colours that he was associated with. Viewers today are still left with a lingering sense of melancholy upon seeing one of his Blue Period paintings.

Actually, the Blue Period represented Picasso’s own melancholy at losing his friend, Carlos Casagemas, to suicide. Spurned by unrequited love, Casagemas shot himself in the temple after an unsuccessful shot at the object of his love, Germaine. Casagemas featured in many of Picasso’s Blue Period paintings posthumously. It seems that by painting his Catalan friend, Picasso was able to find catharsis and a sense of psychological release from the guilt of having abandoned his best friend at a time of need. It was Casagemas’s suicide that sent Picasso into a bout of depression that would last many years. However, certain art historians have disputed the cause of Picasso’s depression to Casagemas’s death due to the questionable chronology of the suicide and the initiation of the Blue phase, including some paintings of Casagemas rendered in colourful tones which defies the categorization Blue. Upon Casagemas’s demise, Picasso also started an affair with the very woman who’d caused his friend’s death. One wonders at the unethical behaviour of this Spanish artist but one could also say that it was his (unusual) way of coping with such a trauma. My rationalization is that the human psyche finds ways to cope–untoward, unethical or unusual as some of these ways may be.

Reflected in the paintings during this (Blue) phase were also the debased portraits of prostitutes, beggars and drunks whom Picasso met during his travels through Spain. It seemed that Picasso was very taken by the downtrodden and marginalized communities in his home country. The canvases from this period is a mirror to his own sense of self-worth, in my view. It feels to me that he identified openly with the old, the frail, the down-and-out, and the blind as he painted them repeatedly during his Blue Period. It would seem that these canvases resonate with his own sense of anxiety, fear and profound feelings of helplessness: he was in this period, a struggling artist.

‘Celestina’ was painted in 1903. The subject, Celestina, is blind in one eye, blindness being a theme and motif found in many of Picasso’s Blue Period works. I felt that Celestina is the best segue into Majidi’s story because of the themes that are explored in ‘Trap’. Celestina meets our gaze directly, demanding that we pay her attention. We are forced to look at her tensed face–the dimpled half-moons by her pursed flat-lined lips indicate this tension and we get the sense that she is distressed. (In fact, the longer I look at Celestina, the more I see how her lips seem to be quivering as she stares imploringly at me.) Her deformed eye looks out at us and this handicap is worsened by the grey-blue backdrop and her funereal ensemble. This portrait of a distressed woman evokes a sense of morose in the viewer. She is frozen, trapped, in her phantom-like pose which lingers in our mind’s eye disturbingly. No wonder Picasso’s Blue Period paintings lost him his reputation as a formidable artist. It was not for technique that he was criticised but for the subject matter and the tones he had used.

If painting is a form of expression, an outlet of our (pained) psyches, then Picasso’s Blue Period was reflective of an unconscious outpouring of grief and desperation. The Blue Period was followed by his Rose Period which was named for his canvases of blush pinks and earthy tones although blue hues remain but less sombre. It is said that Picasso was still depressed during his Rose Period albeit the more cheerful and softer tonalities. Picasso’s depression would last for more years to come as he painted away his blues, eventually lifting as his later paintings indicated. 

I wonder if one is really fully cured of depression.
Picasso, Pablo, ‘Celestina’ (1903).

The People in the Jungle by Eva Wong Nava

Han Suyin stands in the middle of the cavernous gallery displaying only one painting. The man in a white short-sleeved singlet stands in the middle of the painting. He holds a red book in his left hand, his right arm is extended, forearm raised in an L-shape, with his hand and fingers facing him in an awkward twist. This is a hand that commands attention. His khaki trousers are creased but his young face shines with determination as he recites a poem from the red book. He looks into the distance and not at his audience. The distance is where he sees himself in the future, the future of Malaya. 

Suddenly, a gust causes the debris at Han Suyin’s feet to spin like a whirligig: insect carcasses, dead leaves, brown and shrivelled, twigs of all lengths circle around her, rising over her head and disappearing into the massive jungle above. Monkeys shriek, crickets chirp and snakes swish amongst the tall lalang grass, the cacophony deafens her. Mosquitoes prick her sweaty calves as she swats away the rest threatening to suck blood from her arms. The foliage is so thick that Han Suyin can’t see the wall of black clouds forming above. But she can smell the imminent rain, its humid vapours mingle with the stench of mud, mulch and madness. The wind dies down and the air becomes oppressively still—a sign that the skies will soon crack open. She’s inside a white cube yet she feels the tension. There’s danger everywhere but the comrades have told her the jungle is the safest place right now since the jipun kia, the Japanese, have left bringing the British red-haired devils back. Her distant future seems as bleak as the tarpaulin tents she’s forced to sleep under. The white cube disappears. 

Suet Ling is fanning a fire where a blackened pot hangs above. She is squatting, legs splayed by her swollen tummy, her bottom almost touching the muddy ground. Mei Ching squats next to her, plucking feathers from a recently slaughtered jungle fowl whose death was caused by decapitation. Its severed head lies nearby, tossed aside as Mei Ching held the flapping bird down so that its headless body will not escape. She doesn’t wait for it to stop flapping before she plucks away at the bird. It’s a rare treat to be having fresh meat for dinner. Rice is rationed, brought in pocketfuls or hidden in the rubber tappers’ shoes which is then passed on to the People in the Jungle. Communist Terrorists as they’re known. It’s sweet potato leaves for fibre again.

Suet Ling lets out a groan, hands holding her stomach, she attempts to stand up. Her legs wobble and a gush of liquid pooled around her feet. 

“I think baby come,” she says to Mei Ching who throws the naked chicken into the pot.

“Quick, quick, we get doctor,” replies Mei Ching as she runs off to untie Han Suyin.

The men are all on guard duty and will not be back until night breaks; two have been sent to punish a traitor who will be beheaded in a ceremonial execution. Han Suyin, Suet Ling and Mei Ching are the only people left in the camp. The latter two are watching over Han Suyin, the doctor whom their comrades had kidnapped from the clinic in town along with medical supplies.

Han Suyin tremors while she looks into the frame catching the eye of the girl in white sitting by the speaker’s feet. Can that girl really be Suet Ling who died while giving birth to her breeched son? The comrades had blamed the baby’s death on the doctor, on her, and she was punished severely. What about the girl holding a piece of paper? Is she Mei Ching? She must be. Han Suyin thinks she recognises those fervent, determined eyes looking up at the speaker who she thinks is Comrade Lee Loke Wan. He would have executed her if not for Mei Ching’s interference. 

“What for kill doctor? She can help us.”

“Don’t interfere, woman!” a rifle cocks. “She lucky I not hacking her with a parang. I waste one bullet to kill her because she is a woman. Don’t say I not kind! My woman and son are both dead. I want revenge.”

“Suet Ling unlucky, lah. Who can say why baby feet come out first? Not the doctor’s fault, Ah Loke. This kind of thing is heaven send one. Suet Ling never pray to Guanyin, that’s why. Killing doctor will make Guanyin Mother more angry, then our camp cursed. Cannot like this, Ah Loke.”

Han Suyin listens, hands tied behind her back, blindfold over her eyes. She is kneeling as another male comrade holds her still. Mei Ching’s voice is soft, reasoning, determined to win Comrade Lee over to her side. Han Suyin realises that her life is in this woman’s hands. 

In this cavernous space, she wonders what has happened to these people in the jungle. She shivers as she remembers those dark days. 

When the Malay police officers found her, Han Suyin weighed only 32 kilograms. After Suet Ling’s baby died, her meals were reduced down to one a day. Her menses had stopped and she could no longer tell the time from day to day. The people in the jungle had lost faith in her as a doctor. But it was Mei Ching, the nurse, who managed to keep her alive. Mei Ching had only worked a few months at the clinic where Han Suyin was abducted. It was Mei Ching’s idea to have a doctor in the camp. But without the right medical supplies, Han Suyin couldn’t do much. Suet Ling bled to death as her son remained wedged between her legs. 

The camp was dismantled as the commanding police inspector, Leon Comber, rounded up the men and women of the jungle and loaded them into a truck. They will be dealt with by the Crown courts later; some will hang for murder. Special Constable Comber held Han Suyin, his wife, tight. It had taken the British administration six months to find her. She allowed her skeletal frame to lean into Comber’s tight, secure chest, relieved that her ordeal is now over. 

About the Author:

Eva Wong Nava writes Flash Fiction to find catharsis. She is published in various places, including Jellyfish Review, Peacock Journal and Ariel Chart. She founded CarpeArte Journal as a blog to publish her own work and to give a platform for others to do the same. Since then, the Journal has grown to include writers and poets from around the world. 

Eva is also a children’s book author. Her book, Open: A Boy’s Wayang Adventure was written to help readers be more compassionate to people on the autism spectrum. 

Eva’s Comments:

As the managing editor of this growing journal, I’ve not had much time to write recently. Submissions are flowing in, thanks to many talented writers in the Flash Fiction community. There have been poems ebbing in too, thanks to the many prolific poets out there. 

This story had to be placed on the back burner for a few months as I sat on various writing projects and researched Malayan history for a book I’m writing. I have been toying with the idea of introducing a character who is a real person but giving said character a fictional space within the form of flash. 

Han Suyin was the pen name of Elizabeth Comber, a China-born Eurasian writer who wrote the 1952 book, A Many-Splendored Thing which was made into a movie entitled Love is a Many-Splendored Thing in 1955; many old enough will remember the song with the same title. Her second novel, published in 1956, also with a poetic title, And The Rain My Drink, was set in British Malaya during the Malayan Emergency. This novel and her political convictions caused her her divorce from her second husband, Leon Comber, a British officer in the Malayan Special Branch. 

About the Artist:

Chua Mia Tee remains one of my favourite Nanyang artists who paint in a style known as Social Realism. Although Chua is not included in the list of Nanyang artists who gave their name to an eclectic art style known as the Nanyang style, Chua’s works are still important documents of Singapore’s history and commentaries on the social fabric of the country, its people and its politics. I don’t think Chua meant to be overtly political as this was not his focus; he was more interested in documenting how the people lived and bonded during a turbulent period in Singapore’s history. Identity was an important concept to him and to most Chinese emigres of his time: are we Chinese or Malayans? Chua explores this notion in another painting, ‘National Language Class’ which he painted in 1959, the year Singapore gained self-governance from the British. 

His subjects were mostly the people he knew intimately, like his wife and close friends. He believed that art’s function was to educate by sharing ideals and visions that will lead to changes for the betterment of society.

Epic Poem of Malaya’ (1955) depicts a scene where a group of young Chinese students from Malaya are seated around a young man reading from a book. These youths were keen to develop a sense of Malayan identity during this period of Singapore’s and Malaysia’s history, a period during which guerrilla wars were being fought in the Malayan jungles against the British administration. The guerrilla wars were organised by mostly Chinese speaking and educated emigres who saw Communism as the best form of governance and ousting the British as a goal towards gaining independence. A Malayan identity was important for the unification of a predominantly Chinese people, who were neither natives nor Malayan-born, and who had no wish to return to China although they identified Chinese.

What I love about this painting are the minute details, like the fly sitting on the bare shoulder of the man on the right, for example. Check out the facial expressions of his characters/subjects; I love the gobsmacked expression of the boy at the back. Can you see a man whose drink is almost spilling because he’s so engrossed in the recital? Note the peanut shells scattered on the ground. 

Its title reads like an ode because the painting is indeed an ode to Malaya. ‘Epic Poem of Malaya’ evokes a sense of nostalgia in its viewers. For many who remember this not so distant Malayan past, this painting brings back a lost sense of idealism. British Malaya no longer exists. Made up of British protectorates of the Malay States and the Straits Settlement under the British, this geographical entity has morphed into Malaysia and Singapore, with Singapore independent from Malaysia since 1965. Have Malaysians and Singaporeans lost their ideals? 

Chua Mia Tee was born in 1931 in China and emigrated to Singapore (British Malaya) in 1937 with his family who was fleeing the Sino-Japanese war, not realising that the Japanese forces would infiltrate Southeast Asia in a few years’ time. Being one of the many people from the pioneering generation of Singapore, Chua Mia Tee experienced the Japanese Occupation of Singapore, the return of the British after the war, the Communist war against the Empire, and the nation’s fight for independence during the 1950s, culminating in Singapore’s independence in 1965. He documented this turbulent historical period in oil paintings that can be found at the National Gallery Singapore today. 

Chua, Mia Tee (1955), Epic Poem of Malaya, Oil on canvas, 112 x 153 cm, Collection of National Gallery. 

The Irony of Shark Teeth by Mark Antony Rossi

A merciless eating machine patrols up and down the coast of Hilton Head, South Carolina.  A sleepless leviathan sporting a liver the size of a jet ski. It’s a great white shark tracked by scientists using a Global Positioning Satellite device previously inserted on its dorsal fin. I’m not quite sure what information the scientists are gathering other than this cruel fact: there have been eight shark attacks on these beaches in the past two years. But no attacks from “Hilton” the aptly named female great white shark.

Kayaks have been eaten. Limbs carried off to Davy Jones locker. From high above large bright inkblots paint the ocean surface. The precious blood of visitors previously informed how tracking sharks contribute to a better balance of life. For the sake of tourism, the singular became plural. There is no happy medium between green dollars and red death. However; locals feeding a family feel hysteria drives them to the poorhouse. All remain quiet.

In the backdrop of small-town scandal and senseless slaughter, I reconnect with my two young sons. The burning sands fry my tired skin but I respond with hydration and sit-ups. Ha. I’m proud to appear more than ready to play with my children while they are still at the age of gratitude. I started a healthy competition involving locating and collecting seashells. Soon my sons discovered the high tide delivers dozens of stunning shells on to the shiny beach. They consulted a tide chart and planned a strategy to be there at the very moment the tides crashed and deposited precious delicates from the deep sea.

We assembled a wide array of distinct hues and shapes. The haul was large enough to require a grading system to separate the perfect specimens from the damaged ones. The boys found it difficult to discard what they considered cracked sea cradles once holding life. But the prospect of mounting a permanent display of diverse shells was worth the hesitation.

In the middle of this fragile foray, I was mesmerized after finding a finger-length shark tooth. I shared it with the boys but none were prepared for the visual task of scanning tens of thousands of black broken shells for a few shark teeth. It was a time-consuming affair fraught with heat rash, sunburn and enough bend-downs to qualify for a gym membership. I piqued their interest the next day when revealing my solo morning beach visit netted thirty-six teeth of varying size and configuration. My back was sore but my ego took flight and I boasted how no one else could match this incredible feat. I’m a father and you’d think I know better but it was a moment where words hit the world before better judgment.

We were literally off to the races. The boys consulted Google for shark teeth charts, best practices on location and creative measures to dredge teeth from piles of surface beach shell debris. Empty Tic Tac containers served as safe teeth holders. They folded hand towels and tucked inside and outside bathing suit waistlines as an easy way to wipe their hands. Their competitive spirit moved into overdrive pledging to outdo their father.

Competition as a means to expedite interests isn’t always the healthiest but with boys sometimes it’s the only reliable method. They spent hours searching, sifting, digging, collecting, fighting, competing until my repeated reminders of athletic drinks and sun lotion sounded like a broken record.

A few hours ago my kids looked like glossy ads from Old Navy. Now they look like refugees from the Salvation Army. Slightly red. Mostly sandy. Both raw examples of running with an idea too long. All they kept repeating was “we need to process these teeth.” Not, Hi, Daddy. Not, Wow we did great today. Not, Thanks for bringing us to the beach. Just, “we need to process these teeth.”

Shark teeth laid out from one another on a paper towel provides a safe opportunity to clean off sand and grade according to size. This was the simple procedure the boys labelled “processing”, a dramatic term I accidentally gave them. Kids are like mini-recording devices absorbing every whim, quirk and unconscious mumbling you utter. I need to be more cautious.

The irony of shark teeth is while in the midst of menacing sharks chomping down on swimmers and fishermen we strengthened our family five-fold through connection and communication.  The boys gathered over eighty prime specimens to justify their techniques and time expenditures. We said a prayer for the fallen, realizing neither town nor the tourist was going to halt attendance. And my children were not going into that ocean. Let it bring its fragile treasures to us safely waiting on the shore.

 

About the Author:

Mark Antony Rossi is a poet, playwright and author of the recent science humor/factbook “Robots Don’t Respect Sundays” published by Soma Publishing.

Eva’s Comments:

Isn’t this 1975 art print by Roger Kastel for ‘Jaws‘ just the best image to accompany Rossi’s rumination — The Irony of Shark Teeth? We love this piece for its honest recording of how a family bonded over collecting fossils. Reading Rossi’s work made me think of watching ‘Jaws‘ as a child, of how the film became for the longest time a deterrent to going swimming in the sea. Words have the power to trigger memories and they also have the power to create imagery. For this piece, the imagery of the shark teeth brought back Spielberg’s famous film. 

Talking about films, Little R came home beaming after a movie with friends on Saturday evening. They had gone to watch “The Meg” directed by Jon Turteltaub. Over a pizza dinner at a restaurant by the quay, she regaled us with tales of what the movie was about [spoiler alert] and what her friends did during sessions of scare-jumps/jump-scares [apparently, it’s Millennial-speak  for jumping when you’re spooked by something; she’s too young to be a Millennial but it’s the lingo these days, along with ‘ugly-cry’.] E threw the whole box of sharing popcorn all over herself; S yelped, triggered by the sudden suspense; R kicked the seat in front of him in shock [“The poor fella in front,” empathized Little R.] Movies have a way to make us engage with reality by suspending our sense of disbelief. Is there a giant shark out there that will devour surfers, bellies on their surfboards, arms and legs wading, waiting for the next wave because the wading surfer resembles a turtle? Would a swimmer (naked, it would seem from Kastel’s poster for ‘Jaws’) doing her morning laps in the sea be that prime cut for a ravenous shark? Little R is thrilled by the special effects that this American-Chinese film collaboration has included. We laughed over jump-scares/scare-jumps and we bonded over her father’s and my memories of watching ‘Jaws‘ in the mid-70s. How time has passed but how movies are still being made with the same storyline but with better special effects due to technological progress.

Me – I have yet to see “The Meg”. It’s apparently a loose adaptation of a famous Sci-Fi book : Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror. I have an inkling of what adaptations require. My recent children’s book: Open – A Boy’s Wayang Adventure was an adaptation of a film, produced in Singapore by Brainchild Pictures. While the book was in its final editing phase, I had the opportunity to work with the illustrator, Liz Lim, for the cover. She came up with ideas for the cover and the publisher, together with me, looked over her proposals before we made the final decision on the design that buyers and readers see today. It’s the cover that sells because a picture speaks a thousand words.

I’ve talked about how reading different genres is important in the nurturing of young readers’ love for books. I’m hoping that watching this movie will encourage Little R to want to read Sci-Fi fiction. I live in hope.

On Posters:

One of the earliest forms of advertising was done with the Poster. Its life began in the 19th century when visual communication was at its height. The Poster developed along with mass entertainment and it influenced the development and use of typography that was made for viewing from a distance. Hence, its size and the material used to create it. The larger type for the poster was made from wood rather than metal. (Think books and printing in smaller type.)

It is recognised globally these days that posters were also created for propaganda, for example, the posters created during Mao’s China, depicting the Chairman in various ways, and those developed in the United States to recruit soldiers for Uncle SAM; many will recognise the bearded man in a top hat saying “I Want You for the U.S. Army” with his index finger.

Apart from propaganda, posters were created to advertise products before the invention of digital media. These posters are collectables today, for example, posters made in Shanghai in the 1930s to advertise cigarettes. In these posters, Chinese girls depicting the “modern woman” were painted holding cigarettes. The style of these posters was influenced by Art Deco and Art Nouveau which were Western inventions. Feminist art historians have critiqued pre-war posters churned in China during the 30s for sexualising the Chinese female. The subject looks back at the viewer enticingly with coquettish charm, not unlike many of the digitalised advertisements we are subjected to today. I guess not much has changed in how women are represented and portrayed in the 21st century, unfortunately. Sex sells, so does feminine charm!

The poster for the 1975 film, ‘Jaws’, by Steven Spielberg, also depicts a sexualised female: the naked swimmer who is the inadvertent shark bait. I question the usefulness and the validity of her nakedness even as I see the purpose for such a depiction: a naked female will attract as much attention as the shark swimming up to bite her. A poster’s raison d’être is to capture its viewer’s attention, after all. So, whatever it takes is the name of the game here. If Chinese or Oriental (as the Chinese were known as in those days) women in tight-fitting cheongsam holding cigarettes and puffing away elegantly was what it took, then it was what was needed to be produced. The Shanghai poster girls were, after all, the epitome of the modern girl and a role model for many young women living in this cosmopolitan city, as it is still so today.

For more information about the Poster, click here.

Image Credit: Mondo, Kastel, Roger Jaws, Art Print Edition, 24 x 36 inch.

 

Prettier than a Ballerina by Riham Adly

The thought—unlike some of my floating fantasies—is calm and pleasurable and not at all imperceptible.  Ballerinas dance inside light bulbs.  Really, it all depends on where I’m standing. This one here twirls her skirt in the light when I’m looking sideways. Rhododendrons— like the ones you used to get me— in the long-necked vase on the table, stare back, disapproving, cynical. I know, I know. It’s probably my waning eyesight and a bright tungsten filament to blame, but I have to tell you this: when the jittery fingers of those shrivelled hands of mine, turn on the switch, I see her up there, inside the light bulb. A ballerina pirouettes and flips, not without the flame-shaped halo hugging her.

The view of the Nile from these windows is no longer spectacular. Cars parked, the masses in queues down there, in front of the Faten Hamma Cinema, Twenty-Seven floors below. Young couples feed the fish empty Pepsi cans and greasy Burger King wrapping paper. School kids in striped green and purple uniform mistake the flowerbeds for trash cans. Street hawkers call out on top of their lungs even when there’s no one’s out there in the siesta hour except for the stray cats.

I unfold the tattered note that I’ve held in my hands, in my pocket, and in my bag for the past decade. It’s been with me the whole time you weren’t. I know the words by heart, I sing them every day. 

Crossing boundaries. You’ll love it. Follow me.

Ironically, there’s this girl that looks a lot like actress Faten Hamma —the one the Cinema was named after. She comes in every week, walking around like she knows everything there is about anything, saying the note’s in My handwriting. She argues and argues with me, like she has the right to, making me sick. 

The hot-headed girl has brought in a doctor, a specialist, she says. Whatever happened to doctor Mistikawy, the family physician? 

“Tarek, will she…” 

She has those ambiguous eyes, petite posture and dark hair swirling right under her ears. Something about her feels vaguely familiar, a reflection of some hidden truth? I’m being ridiculous again, but she indeed looks like a hamama (a dove). 

Remember when you used to call me “dove”?

She calls the specialist Tarek, must be his first name.  Are they conspiring against me? But she doesn’t sound conspiratorial if you ask me. She sounds…pitiful. Those vague eyes of her sparkle but in a sad way, like they’re coated with some sort of glaze, are those tears?   

“Can’t a woman have some privacy in her own house!” I yell at them, but Hamama and Tarek only stare. I’m travelling soon, and I don’t give a rat’s arse about what they think. 

I’ve made a list of the things I’m not leaving behind. Lists are important. I don’t want to forget anything, after all, I can’t even remember what I had for lunch today, or if I’ve had lunch at all. 

Did I? 

I’m going over the list one last time.

  1. The cane with the lion-head. 

I’ve grown an obsession for canes lately, but this one reminds me of the time when we parked along the side of Kasr El Nil Bridge to watch the then dazzling banks of the Nile. Remember when you said the large lion statues at the east and west side of the bridge reminded you of the Landseer Lions surrounding Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar square? You said, then, that Egypt was going to be your new home.

  1. Your copy of Dickens’s Bleak House. 

I’m never going anywhere without it. Remember, when we first met? You told you bought this book with your first salary ever. You got it from the South Centre Book Market on the Waterloo Bridge, on a rainy day, from a trestle table next to hundreds of laid out second-hand books. You wanted me to keep the book because it was very much part of you as much I was. I did the same and gave you my prized edition of Marry Shelly’s Frankenstein. You laughed then, and said that man can know a lot about a woman from the books she read. We later went to the Soor El Ezbekiya Used Books Market, and bought dozens of books for as little as ten piasters. 

  1. Your favorite perfume: Joy by Jean Patou.

I miss the Rose-Jasmine scent as much as I miss you. Remember when you bought me the last bottle from Harrods? They stopped making it after. I never used it again after you left.

  1. The halter-back, bias cut, crepe de chine dress and the cameo brooch. 

I bought them from Tiring Department Store in Attaba right before our first date. You took me then to the Khedival Opera House to watch Rimsky-Korkakov’s Sherazade, that’s when you told me I looked prettier than all those fair-faced ballerinas. 

I’m all set now, a bit nervous, yes. I haven’t left the house in years, and I’ve always had an aversion to planes ever since that trip to France when I was five. You know about it. I really regret it—not having left when I should’ve. It’s never too late, right?  You know how easily I get tired these days, but I promise after I rest a bit, I’ll come dancing like that ballerina in the light bulb. 

About the Author

Riham Adly worked as an associate editor in 101 words magazine and is currently a first reader/marketing coordinator in Vestal Review magazine.

She is also a creative writing instructor with several short stories published in literary journals such Vestal Review, Page&Spine, Café lit, The Ekphrastic Review, For The Sonorous, Fictional Café, Paragraph Planet, Visual Verse and The Alexandrian with forthcoming stories in Connotation Press and Writing in a Woman’s Voice magazines.

Her story “The Darker Side of the Moon” won the MAKAN Award in 2013 and was published in an anthology by the same name.

Riham lives with her family in Gizah, Egypt. You can find her on twitter: @roseinink

Eva’s Comments

I love this piece, written in under 1,000 words, for the sense of loss it emanates and the nostalgia it evokes. Riham sent in her work accompanied by Edgar Degas’s ‘L’etoile’ that inspired ‘Prettier than a Ballerina”. 

About the Artist

The name Edgar Degas conjures up images of dancers, especially the ballerina. More than half of his works—sculptures, prints, drawings and paintings—are associated with dance. Like Monet, Degas is regarded as one of the founding Impressionist artists although rejects the association and term and preferred to be known as a realist painter. 

Degas’s ballerinas are depicted in isolation, almost always a lone figure even in a group. His portraits are notably significant for their psychological complexity, evoking a sense of melancholia and loneliness. 

Degas was a superb draftsman and was adept at depicting movement and lines. He lived in a time when France was being industrialised with the use of technology and electricity at its height. These were aspects of modern life that Degas depicted through the lens of the slums, the brothels and horse-races of Paris. It was through the reality of the city in which he lived, that he was able to apply his draftsman’s skills. 

“Out of all the subjects in modern life he has chosen washerwomen and ballet dancers . . . it is a world of pink and white . . . the most delightful of pretexts for using pale, soft tints.” — Edmond de Goncourt, 1874.

Indeed, Degas made the ballerinas his focus. He walked the wings and classrooms of the Palais Garnier, where the Paris Opéra resides, sketching dancers in their tutus. There, he was surrounded by the city’s poorest girls—les petits rats, known in the dance world as ‘little rats’, struggling to become the gentle nymphs, pretty fairies and prima-donnas on stage and all to entertain the upper echelon of Parisian society. Soon the world of pink and white engulfed him and he would spend the rest of his life sketching, painting and moulding into sculptures, the form of the ballet dancer.

Paul Valéry, a poet and friend recalls Degas to be a “divided man”, one who was driven by the acute preoccupation with truth who introduced all the new ways of seeing this truth and reality yet was possessed by the rules of Classicism—its elegance, simplicity and style—that he undertook to study and analyse for the rest of his life. I suspect that les petits rats intrigued him, mesmerised him and he felt and empathised with them on an artistic level. Girls as young as six were sent to the Opéra for training and work in order to support their families; these young girls often worked six days a week like factory hands churning out merchandise. A body of literature supports the fact that many of these young girls were prostituted by their families or offered personal sexual favours to their abonnés or patrons in order to advance in their dancing careers. Scandalous rags-to-riches stories filled the press.  There were whispers amongst the bourgeoisie speculating on who were the mistresses of wealthy men. What the gossip mongers and critiques failed to recognise were the talent and skills that many of these dancers possessed. Degas brought to the public these dancers’ progress through his paintings. 

Degas, Edgar, (1878), ‘The Star’ 

In an authentic Irish pub in Las Vegas by Ed Higgins

In an authentic Irish pub in Las Vegas where over much crowd noise the three of us are discussing Yeats, Joyce and Lady Gregory. We’re in an Irish pub after all, plus the fact we’re literature profs attending a Vegas academic conference. Kathy, who holds both Irish and American citizenship, has led us here insisting on a real Irish experience while in Vegas. And it is. On the backbar’s shelf a multi-array of amber liquid bottles of gleaming Irish whiskies is echoed in tall, arched mirrors. Half-to-filled bottles of Jameson, Kilbeggan, Greenore, Midleton, Writer’s Tears, and a range of peated single-malt selections stand like stolid druid sorcerers. I’m eying Writer’s Tears, as a literary self-indulgence, after too many publishing rejections of late. 

 Kathy’s half through her second Guinness Extra Stout pint while lauding Yeats as not only a fine poet and dramatist, but as co-founder of Dublin’s Abby Theatre. We are talking loudly over the band across the room where a young woman performer with green-dyed hair is clogging rat-a-tat-tat percussively on the small raised stage like she’s Michael Flatley’s granddaughter or somesuch. We can’t even hear the crunch of our basket of beer-battered and Bloody Mary marinated Drunken Onion Rings; although they’re delicious nonetheless. Kathy’s also putting away another house speciality, a Sloppy Pat corned beef sandwich, between reciting mouthfuls of Yeat’s “Sailing to Byzantium.”  

Polly’s slowly sipping her Baileys Irish Cream on-the-rocks as I’m making my way through my second shot of Writer’s Tears while Kathy’s starting her 2nd dark Guinness along with her Sloppy Pat. The three of us are leaning against the dark-stained, wet-shiny mahogany bar where Joyce’s Leopold Bloom probably once leaned or Dylan Thomas for sure, reciting “And death shall have no dominion”–which it nevertheless did anyway after a serious drinking bout celebrating his 39th birthday with friends. We’re sipping our drinks looking around the place, admiring all this Irish-cum-Vegas culture. The polished bar and backbar are straight out of Dublin we’ve been told, as is every single brick of the pub’s exterior. Each of us has a foot resting comfortably on the floor’s fancy raised faux-brass rail when a drunk staggers from the dance floor crowd toward the bar, spewing a small lake of pretzel-laden vomit just behind us and flooding underneath the brass rail where the three of us are standing holding forth our literary fete.

Rudely interrupted we are rightfully disgusted and not at all feeling sorry for this creep who’s just drunkenly puked sourly and loudly in our direction. We are slipping uncomfortably in disgorged spew. But quickly enough a clean-up woman magically appears–summoned by on-duty green cocked-hat leprechauns it seems–to mop away the floor’s insult with a few practiced strokes of her Irish spin mop, then dumped back into her green trolley bucket later to be emptied into the imported peat bog located behind the pub, anticipating just such patron surfeits. 

The authentic Irish bartender meanwhile, mindful of long established Irish pub vomit custom, sets up on the bar in front of us an on-the-house Irish Cream, another Guinness, and a Writer’s Tears for Polly, Kathy, and me. Kathy, who speaks Gaelic, tells us we’re well on our way to being absolutely “stocious” given this new round of courtesy drinks. Wouldn’t that more authentically be “langered,” I say, adding what little drunk-Irish I know. Sure, Kathy says, and “Slainte na bhfear agus go maire no mna go deo!” she adds raising her glass of Guinness to clink with ours. “Health to the men and may the women live forever,” she translates. To mine and Polly’s bemused laughter. Down the hatch, Polly offers, and then let’s get t’hell outa here.

Later at our hotel we wash our one-each vomit-soiled shoes in our rooms’ bathroom sink. Thus capping an altogether genuine Vegas-Irish experience. 

About the author:

Ed Higgins’ poems and short fiction have appeared in various print and online journals including recently: Peacock Journal, Uut Poetry, Triggerfish Critical Review, and Tigershark Magazine, among others. Ed teaches literature at George Fox University, south of Portland, OR. He is also Asst. Fiction Editor for Ireland-based Brilliant Flash Fiction.

Eva’s Comments:

The Irish way of life always strikes me as idyllic and traditional. Ed Higgins’ Flash piece written in a Stream of Consciousness style introduces the reader to a type of writing so reminiscent of James Joyce, Virginia Woolf and Marcel Proust. The term Stream of Consciousness was first coined in 1890 by an American philosopher and psychologist, William James. 

As a narrative device, Stream of Consciousness allows the reader to share the writer’s thought processes in the written word: an internal dialogue is happening within the writer’s head and we are privy to it. Admittedly, a work written in this manner can be difficult to read because some writers can go on and on with little or no punctuation. As a reader, you have to imagine that the author of the book or story is having a (one way) conversation with you. You’re “listening” but with no way of getting a word in edgeways. 

The most cited and famous Irish writer using this narrative method is James Joyce. My early reading of Joyce’s Ulysses filled me with much confusion and frustration. I was determined to finish the book which is devised with chapters known as “episodes” and so I soldiered on.  (I discovered that if I relax my mind and allow the flow of words to pour out of the text, reading Ulysses became easier.)  I was glad to come to the final episode/chapter of the book only to find Joyce’s character, Molly Bloom, speaking continuously, with no end, at Bloom, her husband. She is ruminating and as ruminating goes, she does not pause for Bloom, her husband, to interject or even converse. Here’s an example, courtesy of Wikipedia:

“I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish Wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.”

Molly Bloom’s soliloquy is often quoted and used as a fine example of how writing in the Stream of Consciousness looks and reads like. Notice how in this cited excerpt one sentence flows into another with no punctuation allowing for pauses. 

In Higgins’ piece, we can hear the narrator recount an episode in an Irish inspired pub in Las Vegas. The story reads more like a rumination of an event and/or a journal entry of sorts, if one likes. It brings the reader into the very core of the narrator’s experience in a more controlled manner unlike that of Joyce’s Molly. This Flash piece is written astutely and within the economy of a tight word count, we have a beginning, middle (where something happens) and an end (a resolution of that something, in this case, ending with the three characters “capping an altogether genuine Vegas-Irish experience” bringing readers back to the beginning where the first sentence— “In an authentic Irish pub in Las Vegas […]”—acts as a precursor to the ending. {emphasis mine} And the subtle humour is so authentically Irish too.

Ed Higgins sent in his story with a photo of the pub that inspired ‘In an authentic Irish pub in Las Vegas’. The image shows a scene in an authentic looking Irish pub. For the purpose of this journal, I have selected an artwork which I think lends a more authentic feel to the Irish pub that Higgins paints in his story. 

About the artist:

Martin Driscoll is an American painter based in Wimberley, Texas. He is famous for documenting all things Irish in his paintings. His oil paintings can be found online. This oil painting captures a way of life for many Irishmen past and present. The pints of Guinness on the bar top epitomises a way of life that still goes on in contemporary Ireland as depicted by Driscoll. 

image credit: Martin Driscoll

Case Closed by Karen Schauber

Tiptoeing

Marcia takes care not to step on the cracks when she walks down the sidewalk. The marmots are abundant along the riverside of MacArthur Island, in Kamloops…..and they’re not too shy! Walking quietly and carefully with one’s heels raised and one’s weight on the balls of the feet is the least one should do.

Whispering

Marcia carefully avoids discussing difficult or sensitive subjects. Elephants have good hearing, detecting sounds as low as 14 to 16 Hz (human low range: 20 Hz) and as high as 12,000 Hz (human high range: 20,000). Whispering a message through broken telephone is the polite thing to do

Hiding

Marcia does not turn on the lights in her apartment at night. Ants are social insects, so when one ant enters your home, others follow. Marcia hears the footsteps of armies marching. She buys plush carpet.

Blending

Marcia likes to wear high-contrast and bright coloured clothing. The bat faced toad found among the leaves of Amacayacu National Park in Colombia is masterful at blending into its surroundings. Marcia has a playful side and is not trying to make life difficult.

….

People take different roads seeking fulfillment and happiness. Just because they’re not on your road doesn’t mean they’ve gotten lost.

 

About the author:

Karen Schauber is a seasoned Family Therapist practising in Vancouver, British Columbia. Her earlier writing is non-fiction and details three decades of psychosocial and analytical cases. Flash Fiction is a new and welcome adventure for her. Fictional short stories are much more fun to read and write! As an emerging artist, Karen hones her craft at home and at the dog beach on the Pacific coast (when it’s not pouring out).

Karen’s flash fiction can be read at Rebel Shorts, SpillWords, AdHoc Fiction, Down in the Dirt, Blood Puddles: An Anthology, CafeLit, Writing in a Woman’s Voice, Yellow Mama, Brilliant Flash Fiction, Wilderness House Literary Review, Postcard Shorts, and forthcoming at CarpeArte, Stereo Stories, and Ariel Chart. The upcoming Group of Seven Flash Fiction Anthology celebrating the Canadian Modernist Landscape Painters is her first editorial/curatorial flash venture.

Eva’s Comments:

Surrealism is an art movement which was influenced by psychoanalysis and grew out of the Dada Movement. Dadaists like Giorgio de Chirico aimed to perturb the conservative middle-classes through artworks that have bizarre, naive (or primitive) and fantastical imagery and themes. Surrealist artists believed that the unconscious can be unlocked allowing the free flow of the imagination and imagination is seldom realistic, more often twisted, whimsical and inventive. They held a strong belief that the mind when repressed blocked the flow of the imagination which then impeded the unconscious from revealing innate and authentic emotions. 

Karl Marx was an influential figure in this movement as artists sought to let their psyches aid in spurring on revolutions; Surrealism was as much a response to the horror of the First World War as it is a voice speaking out against tyranny. Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, was also influential. Freud’s book, ‘The Interpretation of Dreams’ (1899) provided a theoretical framework for Surrealism. These artists did away with rationalism and literal realism in favour of mysticism, mythology and a form of primitivism that harks back to an idyllic past evoking a sense of nostalgia. [I tend to think that Surrealists are looking for a past that is far from innocent but one that is strewn with anarchy based on the belief that repression is a result of the process of the civilisation of society.] There is a dream-like quality in Surrealist art and imagery plays a big part in the recurring motifs found in such works. For example, birds, ants and butterflies are often found and can be symbolic of many things, if one were to apply a symbolic reading of the art. 

Surrealism was not confined to art, as in paintings, alone. The movement extended to film, theatre, photography and writing. André Breton, a Franco-Amerian writer poet and philosopher, focused on the idea that one’s verbal expression in the form of the written word is an automatic process which stemmed from one’s unconscious. Verbal expression is a function of thought, according to Breton. Verbal expression can be expressed through the written word and Breton believed that writers (and artists) have to let go of conscious, rational thought to give way to what he calls automatic writing in order to express themselves authentically. 

About the Artist

Christian Schloe is an artist from Austria, famous for his surreal digital artwork. Schloe’s artwork which prompted Karen Schauber’s Flash piece is a good example of Surrealist art. Here, the recurring motif of the butterfly acts as both mask and metaphor in this pseudo-Victorian image. There is that dream-like element mentioned above which this piece of work exudes; the image is both dark and ephemeral while evoking a sense of nostalgia for an idyllic past and landscape. It is difficult to place one’s finger on the time period in which this digital image is set. Judging from the dress of the “sitter”, one knows that the time period is not a contemporaneous one yet, there is a certain modernity about the piece which contradicts the suggested old-worldliness of this particular art piece. Isn’t this the stuff of dreams? 

‘Case Closed’ has certain surrealist elements to it and comes across like the description of a dream; yet, there is a quality of realism/reality to it. There is also a poetic structure to its form; each story segment begins with a title, compartmentalising the story into bite-size portions with Marcia as the pivotal prima ballerina/ primadonna in the story. In just a little over 200 words, Schauber has successfully conveyed the unique quality of what makes us individuals in this vast human world.