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’ 

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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. 

 

Late Winter Gardening By Mary Ellen Gambutti

 

As St. Patrick’s Day approaches my anticipation heightens with each periodic burst of mild air. Each day a strengthening sun calls crocuses and daffodils to rise. No matter, there are still snow patches at the end of March, they cool and temper to a suddenly too warm day. I peel layers of down and wool as my activity warms me.

It’s time to begin. Time to start in gardens. I know what I’ll do first. Leaves having lain in moist beds since autumn rains, oak and maple matted and stuck to frosted soil, can be pulled off in small sheets. Nothing more delightful than to reveal strong yellow-green growth, musty smell of humus. Even wearing neoprene, the slight bite in my fingertips from part-frozen earth lends urgency to my task. I resist gloves, preferring to make direct contact in all seasons, but late winter gardening demands they be worn. 

Warmth on my back as I crouch along the garden border, still stiff from the winter couch. I know it will be weeks before I freely manoeuvre through the beds, haul soil and mulch, heavy clumps of transplants, and drag hoses.

Now the bed free and breathing, I pull the trusty red pruner from the back pocket of my jeans. I move to clip dried, bleached, yet still fragrant Perovskia, the Russian Sage. Left to bloom out its blue scraggly twist in the fall, now broken and leaning from months of snow and ice. Shape it toward its base, to any new pale growth along the stems, a technique I use with Lavender. If only wood, go further to the bottom tuft of green. By May it will be full and fragrant in the breeze.

These tasks bring joy to feel the life around me, the life within me. To prune and snip rose bushes encourages April growth. Recall how it’s done: just above a five-leaflet leaf. Methodical, precise, satisfying labor creates bloom, and when repeated, more bloom.

April trees – yellow and green buds,

towering branches sway

trill of pine warbler

About the Writer: 

Mary Ellen Gambutti writes about her life as an Air Force daughter, search and reunion with her birth family, her gardening career, and her survival of a stroke at mid-life. Her work appears or is forthcoming in Gravel Magazine, Wildflower Muse, The Remembered Arts Journal, The Vignette Review, Modern Creative Life, Halcyon Days, The Book Ends Review, Nature Writing, Post Card Shorts, Memoir Magazine, Borrowed Solace, Thousand and One Stories, and Story Land Literary Review. Her memoir chapbook, ‘Stroke Story, My Journey There and Back,’ is self-published. She and her husband live in Sarasota, Florida, with their rescued Schnoodle.

 Eva’s Comments:

Landscapes form one of the many genres of art. The word ‘landscape’ is translated from the Dutch ‘landschap’ which refers to an area of land or ground. In art, ‘landscape paintings or drawings’ refer to works of art whose main subject matter is the depiction of a scene, usually encompassing nature. In such works, the viewer will see trees, flowers in a field, mountains and valleys, the sea and the beach, a river and riverbank, to mention some natural scenery. The viewer would perhaps notice that these scenes are idealisations of the real place or it can be an imaginary place, like those painted by Chinese ink painters. Chinese Landscapes, established since the 4th century BCE, are known by their definition: shan shui, meaning mountain, water. 

Landscapes started out as a backdrop to include human activity. In many Renaissance paintings, scenery was added to historical and religious paintings but viewers were not meant to focus on them but on the historical, mythological and religious stories that the paintings extolled. As many painters during the 16th century were mostly religious, one would find many spiritual elements (not all to do with Christianity) in their landscape paintings as well. For examples, see works by Leonardo Da Vinci, Giovanni Bellini, Caravaggio. 

As the genre developed, artists painted landscapes in response to the political and social issues that were taking place during their time. In 18th century England, new technologies enabled the landscaping of gardens and the landscaped gardens started to be depicted in art. Landscaping is a symbol of the nation’s increasing wealth and the power of Man over Nature.

In France, especially in the 19th century, landscape paintings became a sought after leisurely activity for many artists. Painting en plein-air developed by the Barbizon School with artists like Camille Corot began to influence artists throughout Europe and the United States and paved the way for Impressionism in France.

Claude Monet (1840-1926) needs little introduction. The man who started the Impressionist Movement with a painting, ‘Impression, Sunrise’ (1873) and was critiqued for his painting depicting a sunrise by art critique Louis Leroy, went on to paint more impressions of landscapes and cityscapes. 

‘Poppy Field’ or ‘Coquelicots’ (1873) was painted in Argenteuil, the place where Monet called home. He moved to Argenteuil with his wife Camille and son Jean after his return from England in 1871. ‘Coquelicots’ was painted en plein-air, in open-air, which is the way Monet preferred to paint. When he was painting, portable easels were made easily available and paints can be bought in tubes, much like today, which made painting outside a studio accessible. 

In this painting, the viewer can see an expanse of land with the foreground dotted red with poppies. Two figures—a mother and daughter pair—are inserted into the landscape, indicating the Classical notions of landscape paintings: landscapes as a backdrop to human activity. The painting is postcard perfect with muted hues of greens, blues and reds; soft browns can also be found. The visual sense is one of blurriness which can be detected in all of Monet’s paintings. This blurriness adds an element of the abstract to his work. It also underscores the Movement’s name—Impressionism. As with all impressions, the details are often obscured and only an “impression” is formed of reality.

Claude Monet (1840-1926), Poppies1873, Oil on canvas, H. 50; W.65 cm. Paris, Musée d’Orsay (Etienne Moreau-Nélaton donation, 1906) © RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d’Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski

What is a Haibun:

A Haibun is a form of writing that originated in Japan in the 17th century. The form combines a prose poem with a haiku, a very short poem. Haibun has a wide range that could include a short story, an essay, a journal entry, even a memoir piece but it is usually used to describe a trip and (in my view) can be seen as a travelogue of sorts. 

The creator of the haibun was a Japanese man named, Matsuo Bashō. He wrote about his travels, often paying tribute to specific patrons and events. 

A typical haibun would pay homage to a place, person, object or event through its description of the subject in an objective manner. The prose will be followed by a haiku in finishing. Mary Ellen’s work is a fine example of a haibun, written in English. 

For those who are interested in this form of writing, you can visit this website for more examples.

Pristine Thoughts by Yogesh Chandra

When a curious did try to please the room 

Inside a box which will never be unfastened

And the strange edge, stagnant and surrounded by celestial imaginations

But what of the unseen or the unfelt

And how to believe on such blinded, to the skeptic or the believer

In a room, where light will not show its face

But what is it that so securely takes away ten thousand sorrows at a time

And that one soul, who will not believe a single thing

But why is such a corrosive thing, untrue and universally publicized

Which is bitter to the ones on that free flowing line

To the one who never compromises, he shall be taken to exile

And his clothes will be snatched and his flesh fastened to that tree 

Where the heavenly spirits did visit each night, so they say

To see, to feel, but what of the mind which never felt a thing 

Besides the one thing, poverty

Now that the soldiers take you away, 

But none a warrior left here to take away your imaginations

And when at the cross-road, that fine stone, and the splitting strings, 

And that automobile which will not stop creating this

To the broken, there needs to be something worth living for

Some sought love, some sought rejection

And what of the others

But never will a thought so explicit be allowed to take control over you

In this society and the next, it is highly contagious

Or what the creative shall say will never be heard

And he will be placed in that lunatic asylum

Where, beside the calm and the polite rods, grilled so sophisticatedly

But to believe in it, is to remain calm for the rest of this injurious life

Beside you, there is another soul, and the writings on the wall

He is brilliant, so the physiatrist gives him more pills

Now that every soul who has ever seen madness shall never see the pleasure in the gifted lines, but it is no game for the commoner

They will take you away and you will never see the art in your room again

 

About the Poet:

Yogesh Chandra is from Fiji.  He writes Poetry and Novels and is currently a Post-Graduate Student at the University of the South Pacific. His first book is entitled ‘The Tragedy of our Lives’ and can be found on Amazon Stores. He is currently working on a novel ( a psychological thriller) forthcoming mid 2018. 

 

Eva’s Comments:

‘Pristine Thoughts’ by Yogesh Chandra conjured up images of René Magritte’s work. This poem is angsty, urgent and shouts out to be heard. The imagery that Chandra uses to evoke my response to his poem is that of entrapment within a space/room— in this case, one’s imagination or the creative mind—that the world may not get. So “more pills” are shoved down the throat of “another soul”. It reminds me of writing not for others but for yourself, writing not “to please the room”. It speaks to me about staying true to the craft. As a writer, I understand the commerciality of one’s work, the sales which translate to figures that your work can churn but yet, I remain fervent in my belief that writing is not always about commerciality; writing is soul food and thus cathartic and not everyone can get what you’re writing about! This poem reminds me to remain strong and resilient to what my writing can do for me and for my readers who get it. I reflect and think about the cathartic nature of the written word when I stare into the horizon beyond the room that confines me.

About the Artist:

René Magritte [1898 – 1967] was born René François Ghislain Magritte in Lessines Belgium. He is known for his surrealist work. To date, Magritte’s most famous work is that of a pipe with the caption: “Ceci n’est pas une pipe”. This work forces viewers to ask themselves if this is art and/or the meaning behind the image. This artwork—oil on canvas— entitled ‘The Treachery of Images’ (1929) is found at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. It highlights the gap between image and language.

In ‘La Condition Humaine’ (1933), we see a room with a window resembling a canvas, indicated by the tripod stand of the easel. But wait! If you look closely, you’ll see that there is an easel with a landscape already painted on. Or are we looking through the glass pane out into the landscape beyond? Magritte’s paintings often reference paintings within his painting. Magritte says that “everything we see hides another thing, we always want to see what is hidden by what we see.” 

Often, the spoken or written language is the only form of expression for many of us. Yet, it is not enough. In images, we find meaning through a visual language. But, that is also not adequate in expressing what we feel, see or do. Despite the gap between image and language, the human condition is universal: wherever we are in the world, love, pain, joy and hurt–the depths of human emotions–are felt similarly. Desires for liberty, self-actualisation and expression are all sought after globally amidst cultural and linguistic differences and diversity.

La Condition Humaine (1933) René Magritte, oil, 100 x 81 cm National Gallery of Art Washington.

 

Dedication:

This publication is dedicated to Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain who have sadly left their rooms within a few days of each other. Both Spade and Bourdain committed suicide despite being talented, famous and leading glamorous lives. I am dedicating this publication to them because I understand how so many of us live with pain beyond our abilities to cope; pain that can never be expressed publicly or even privately. “To the broken, there needs to be something worth living for”: where do we start to find that something to live for in this complicated world that we are part of and yet may not want to be? 

 

 

 

Afterglow by Glen Donaldson

It was an after-dinner announcement no one had seen coming. After a great many years spent toying with the idea from the comfort of her upholstered recliner lounge chair with the polished wooden lever at the side, great-grandmother  Bertha Babcock had decided the time was finally right to get her very first spray tan.

It was now or never for the heavyset 88 year old, who, in her youth, had cut a svelte figure working at the local frog canning factory but via the passage of time, the birth of six children and one too many whoopee pies and Portuguese pastries had come these days to resemble more like one half of the popular bingo call for her age – “two fat ladies”.

Bertha Babcock had devoted some time on the internet to checking out tanning salons before deciding on one called AFTERGLOW, about ten minutes drive from her house. In amongst her fact-finding research, which included reading numerous horror stories of spray tans gone wrong (‘a radioactive orange colour which left the wearer smelling like vegetable oil for days’ seemed to be a reoccurring complaint) she’d also managed somehow to take in the episode of the American sitcom FRIENDS where Ross is shown going into an automated tanning booth (like a carwash for humans) and due to a failure to pivot fast enough emerges with a half bronzed body.

But with the occasion of attending her granddaughter’s upcoming wedding spurring her on to want to look her glowing best, Bertha was determined to ignore the stories of other’s misadventures and forge ahead anyway. The person she’d spoken to on the phone at the salon had assured her she would be incapable and experienced hands.

The next morning her son Phillip arrived at the house in his silver-grey Ford Bronco utility to pick her up and drive her to the salon. After the short journey during which Bertha again reminded Philip of her wish to have her ashes scattered at sea upon her death and her desire to visit the Crater of Diamonds State Park in Arkansas sometime prior to that happening, they pulled up in the car park of the salon and began the task of extracting Bertha from the front seat of the car. This took some minutes but eventually, Bertha Babcock was on her way in, supported by her own cane walking stick and her dutiful, ever-patient son guiding and encouraging her with each step.

Inside, Bertha was at once hit with the sterile, over-air-conditioned feel of a big box store and the slightly ‘yeasty’ aroma common to many tanning salons. She eased herself down onto the black leather waiting couch next to a laminated sign emblazoned in gold lettering with the words “We promise to do our best to make you look your best”. Next, the twenty-year-old ‘spray artist’ girl walked through (Bertha thought she heard her introduce herself as ‘Tiffany’ but knew it might just as easily have been ‘Tilly’, ‘Tina’ or even ‘Tigerlilly’). 

Even with her pasted on smile Bertha found her friendly and professional, but couldn’t help wishing for a brief moment she was now facing someone more like Maude from her favourite retro show The Golden Girls. Bertha knew she wasn’t going to enjoy having to get near naked in front of someone as young and bubbly as Tiffany, or whatever her name was.

After receiving her instructions on the poses to adopt while the ‘fake bake’ dark coffee chemical was applied, Bertha was handed a set of attractive nose plugs, a shower cap and a pair of too-tight green goggles and directed to walk down a tiled corridor into the 2nd room on the left that housed the stand up spray booth. The first thing she noticed once inside the room was how unbearably hot it was compared to the outside reception area. She looked up and noticed the sole ceiling fan wasn’t moving. A moment later she realised why. A dead rodent was lodged in it, its legs dangling down toward Bertha. ‘Tiffany’ entered the room and explained in her best cheery tone that Bertha should change into the disposable underwear that lay on a corner benchtop and she would return in a few minutes when it would be time for the hoping-to-be- glamorous great granny to ‘get her bronze on’.

After a ‘respectful’ time, the young salon worker knocked on the door and asked would it be all right to come in. “All ready my dear” was Bertha’s buoyant reply. When ‘Tiffany’pushed back the door she was greeted with a most unusual site. There was the great-grandmother wearing the spray technician’s surgical mask as underwear. She had somehow mistaken it for the g-string spanty that lay next to it. More incredibly she’d somehow managed to manoeuvre ‘into’ it. Spotting the girl’s surprise but not knowing exactly what had warranted it, Bertha quickly switched to comedy mode and asked, “Could you paint some tight ab muscles on me while you’re at it?” The quip seemed to relax the young AFTERGLOW employee and she was able to complete the procedure in under ten minutes with Bertha emerging like a luminous Oompa Loompa ready to go to the wedding the next day.

On the way home from the salon with Philip driving, however, there was one more sun-kissed moment of unintended pantomime. The Bronco utility was pulled over for a police random breath test. Phillip blew into the plastic nozzle offered to him by the officer wearing over-large mirror sunglasses. Though he was a non-drinker, the plastic metal device registered a reading for alcohol, though not enough to put him over the legal driving limit. He found out some time later it was the nearby powerful fumes from his mother’s freshly spray tanned skin that had set off the machine and given a false reading for alcohol.

When the two arrived home, they sat down with the rest of the extended family in the living room. Everyone was eager to hear how Operation Tangerine Dream, as someone had dubbed it, had gone. Laughter and voices babbled happily like a flowing mountain stream for the next hour or so as Bertha Babcock held the floor like a fluff news reporter continually fed by the smiles and gentle gaze of those gathered. When Aunt Ophelia asked “Did they put it on with a paint roller?” the laughter echoed down the hallway and into each and every room of the house.

Soon it was time for the youngest children of the gathered clan to have their bath and as it was not her time to leave, great-grandmother Bertha Babcock insisted on helping. The old bathtub was fashioned from tin and beaten into shape with a flat hammer. It was just big enough for a child to sit in and the water was never more than tepid. Before anyone could protest there was big bronzed Bertha, glowing radioactive orange by this time, arms deep in suds and bubbles scrubbing with a flat brush the grime from her grandchild Leroy’s puppy fat bolstered five-year-old body.

When it was over, the entire house was treated to the genuinely horrible screams of bathetic Bertha reacting with all the grace of a wrecking ball to the sight of herself winding up with no tan at all halfway up her arms, making her look for all the world like she was wearing white gloves. And from a distance, at her granddaughter’s garden wedding held in the city’s Botanical Gardens the next day, that is exactly how it appeared. Unfortunately the super soak mishap also gave rise to a somewhat inebriated Uncle Spida, who was already slurring his words by the time the best man got up to give his speech, remarking on more than one occasion to anyone who would listen, how big Bertha’s newly tanned look ‘fit her like a glove’. 

About the Author:

Glen Donaldson is an Australian flash fiction author with a nutty aftertaste. Glen admits to being fascinated why a group of squids is not called a squad and lists his all-time favourite movie as CAPRICORNE ONE (1977). He blogs at SCENIC WRITER’S SHACK.

Eva’s Comments:

‘After Glow’ by Glen Donaldson cracked us up so much at CarpeArte Journal that we decided to publish his flash piece in celebration of Short Story Month.

“Short stories are tiny windows into other worlds and other minds and other dreams. They are journeys you can make to the far side of the universe and still be back in time for dinner.”
― Neil Gaiman

Glen’s piece opened a window to how humour injected adeptly into a short story can fill the reader with mirth and delight. Bertha Babcock’s story made me glow with pure pleasure, chuckle with glee and choke on the surprising imageries so wittily conjured up by Glen’s magical writing.

The Portrait of Dona Rosita Morillo, completed in 1944 by Frida Kahlo, depicted the mother of Eduardo Morillo who was a Mexican diplomat. Eduardo purchased more than 30 paintings from Frida over the years and commisioned her to paint several portraits of his family members. Apparently, this portrait is said to be one of Frida Kahlo’s favourite paintings.

Frida Kahlo needs no introduction. She was born in 1907 and named Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo y Calderón. This famous Mexican artist is well-known for her self-portraits which she painted many of after a bus accident that left her in debilitating pain. Her paintings have deep autobiographical layers, mixed with fantasy and surrealism reflecting the agony she lived through on a daily basis, her dreams of escapism, and the fantasies that she engaged in to rid her psyche of pain.

Kahlo employs a type of folk-art style in her work which examines questions of identity, class, race and gender in Mexican society. Kahlo is loved by feminists who see her art as representations of the female experience and form.

Glen Donaldson does not remember how he became intrigued by this Mexican artist.  However, what struck him was the relatively short life she led. Kahlo died at the age of 47 after decades of ill health and chronic pain, pain that she had suffered from since the age of eighteen. What intrigued us at CarpeArte was how Glen saw past the sadness of Dona Rosita, indicated by her down-turned lips and found inspiration in the orange glow of her skin to produce ‘Afterglow’, “the story of great-grandmother Bertha Babcock and her ‘now or never’ moment on the eve of her granddaughter’s garden wedding.” (Glen Donaldson) Out of the ashes of pain, flew the phoenix of mirth. There’s hope in laughter.

Image Credit: Hand-painted reproduction of ‘Portrait Of Dona Rosita Morillo’ (1944) [artist unknown]. Originally painted by Frida Kahlo (1944).

Chère Madame… by Susan Cornford

Gabrielle could feel the letter almost slipping from her cold fingers. It was the one that every soldier’s wife most feared; her beautiful, wonderful Guillaume was dead. And it had been so far away, in that horrible Mexican wilderness! The battle had been last April at somewhere unpronounceable. At least he would have been buried in a proper Catholic country. She must change into mourning as soon as she could bear to let go of the letter. But, just now, it seemed the last link with the man she’d loved since …when?

At supper in the Café Riche on the Boulevard des Italiens, after seeing Rigoletto at the Théâtre Italien, she’d been introduced, by her married sister, Suzanne, to this handsome, young officer who looked so glorious in his uniform. Suzanne whispered that he was unmarried and of very good family. Gabrielle decided, then and there, that he would not remain the former for long.

It had been a wonderful courtship: balls and theatre and suppers. But there had also been quiet walks and talks, carefully chaperoned by her Aunt Matilde, in the lovely Tuileries Garden by Catherine de’ Medici’s Palace on the Right Bank. They had been married just before Louis Bonaparte, Napoleon III, had decided to send French troops to Mexico in 1861. It was all about somebody’s unpaid debts, but soldiers must go where and when they are sent. They had hoped he might leave her with a child coming, but that had not happened. Now she was left with nothing of him at all.

Never one for tears, Gabrielle fought her own battle against them and won. Guillaume would want her to live a full and happy life; he’d said so before he’d gone. At least he’d left his affairs in order and his property would come to her without the interference of trustees. She could comfortably do as she pleased.

Gabrielle now recalled another letter that she’d had last week. It was the first from Harriet, her American friend, since the end of their Civil War in May. The two families had met when Harriet and her parents had come to Paris before that war. They were from Boston and were raising funds for what they called the “underground railway” that was helping Negro slaves to escape from Southern plantations. It had sounded quite thrilling and noble to Gabrielle, something she could now throw herself into to get over her grief at losing Guillaume.  

Slowly Gabrielle rose from her chair and carefully she returned the military missive to its envelope and put it into the drawer of her desk. Taking a fresh sheet of writing paper and her pen and ink, she started another letter. “Dearest Harriet …” 

 

About the Author:

Susan Cornford is a retired public servant, living in Perth, Western Australia, with pieces published or forthcoming in 50-Word Stories, Akashic Books, Antipodean Science Fiction, Ghost Parachute, Medusa’s Laugh, Speculative 66, Subtle Fiction, Switchblade, The Fable Online, The Gambler and The Vignette Review. She considers herself an emerging Flash writer. 

 

Eva’s Comments

Susan submitted her story with this note: “I looked through Met Art website till I found “The Letter” by Camille Corot (c. 1865). This was a story just waiting to be told! So, I dug around in the history of the period & this is what I came up with. The names are a tribute to the new Olympic ice dancers.”

Camille Corot is also known as Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot (1796-1875). He was born in Paris at 125 Rue du Bac, and was the middle child of a wealthy family. The family was in the fashion business, his Swiss-born mother a milliner and his father a wig-maker before becoming a businessman, running the millinery shop where Corot’s mother had worked which the Corot family had bought. He started painting late in life, at the age of 26, after a failed apprenticeship as a draper. Luckily for Corot, his parents had invested well and had more than enough money to support his artistic endeavours. Corot started painting under Achille-Etna Michallon who studied landscape painting under Pierre-Henri de Valenciennes. Corot made historical and realistic landscapes his focus. The former contains mythological animals, signs and symbols, the latter are depictions and renditions of Northern European sceneries fused with flora and fauna recognisable in the northern hemisphere. According to the French Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture,  historical (landscape) paintings were considered better than pure landscape paintings i.e. depictions of flora and fauna as nothing could be learnt from studying painted plants.  Corot liked to mix both historical and realistic landscapes together, forming a unique way of painting landscapes. However, he was not the only painter to do so. Claude Lorrain, a French painter before Corot was famous for his hybrid style too. Lorrain had settled in Rome in the seventeenth century and his artworks consisted of a balanced depiction of pure landscape infused with narratives from the Bible and the Classical past (think Greek and Roman myths). 

Corot belonged to the Barbizon School of painting where an idealised portrayal of nature was preferred. Barbizon painters took their influence from Italian painters and many travelled to Italy for inspiration and Corot was no exception. In Italy, he was able to capture and depict the light favoured by Italian Renaissance artists. Barbizon is a village near the Fontainebleau Forest where the first generation of French painters worked in favour of idealising their native landscape rather than that of Italianate scenes. 

Barbizon painters painted directly from their observation of nature and always in the open-air—en plein air. This way of painting would come to be emulated by the Impressionists.

Camille Corot died in Paris in 1875, a single man, having never married because he swore to devote his life to painting landscapes: “All I really want to do in life … is to paint landscapes. This firm resolve will stop me forming any serious attachments. That is to say, I shall not get married.”—Camille Corot

With this resolve, Corot left behind over 3,000 pieces of artwork but not all were of landscapes. He was also a philanthropist who donated a large part of his wealth (which he made from selling his paintings) to the poor of Paris. He helped support a couple of his artist friends and their families who were not as lucky as he was. Camille Corot is buried at Père Lachaise cemetery. 

Susan’s choice by Corot is entitled ‘The Letter’, depicting a seated woman with a letter on her lap. The colour scheme overall is dull, sombre and drab, a result of the overuse of browns and blacks. (In general, Corot’s paintings are generally rendered in such tones; some are almost like sepia photographs.) The red hair accessory gives this painting a hint of cheerfulness, only to be reduced by the expression on the woman’s face: her eyes are downcast and she is pensive. On closer look, the viewer’s eye notices signs of despondency on the sitter’s face enhanced by the linearity of her lips and the shadows around her eyes. Baudelaire defends Corot’s use of pale colours calling him a “harmonist” more than a “colourist”. I find this reading of Corot’s artworks accurate. There is a quality to his paintings which never fails to emote me. ‘The Letter’ is a good example; I really feel the sitter’s sadness and sense that the letter mustn’t have brought good news. 

CarpeArte Journal loves Susan’s story, considering it a great example of how art has prompted a response in the writer. Her story ends with the start of a letter, indicating the open-ended reading of Corot’s ‘The Letter’. 

Susan’s story pays homage to the new Olympian ice skaters, Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron.

Jean-Baptist Camille Corot (1796-1875), The Letter (circa 1865), Oil on wood, 21 1/2 x 14 1/4 in. (54.6 x 36.2 cm), The Metropolitan Museum of Art.