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Posts Tagged ‘Peter Wortsman’

Midmoon

July 13, 2012 5 comments

by Peter Wortsman

The early hours belong neither to yesterday nor to tomorrow. As there is midday and midnight, so should there also be a stretch of time—call it midmoon—between the indigo breakdown and the powdery blue busyness of dawn, the timeless refuge of insomniacs.

***

My neck is creaking. The nail on my right thumb, the one holding down the pen, has split open, staining the pen shaft red.

***

Oh, sleep, what have I ever done to displease you? True, I stole a couple of dreams and pawned them off as poems, but where’s the harm in that? I just wanted to broadcast your brilliance, to needle the night. Forgive me, sleep, my precious!

***

I flee the living room and seek refuge in the kitchen. Why are kitchen tabletops always sticky? Ledgers of domesticity, they reveal more about the viscous love of family than all the fabricated grins in photo albums. The tick of the kitchen clock drives me mad. It’s time getting to me, that fiction I always denied, that wilting thing that bleaches hair and illusions. Time is a tyrant. Time is a trap. If only it flew, as the saying goes. But it strangles. As if each little parcel of our passing were really equal in duration and intensity. As if eternity were divisible and we could measure its shrinking in dead seconds frozen in flight. Why does the refrigerator sing at night?

***

In a sleepless state not far removed from madness all is metaphor, like the loose screws on the frame of my glasses and the cracks in the ceiling. The unidentified street sounds strike like auditory shrapnel hurled by a roving militia. The boxed destinies of cars and trucks deliver somebody else’s tomorrow.

***

No choice in the eternal tick-tock that stretches, sleepless, till dawn, no choice, after the rage of helplessness breaks, but to sit back and watch, like on a long train ride, when life is a landscape rushing by, a succession of trees, homes, shrubs, depots, ducks and cows—and people scattered about, mostly in clusters, but sometimes solitary. No choice but to watch and love it for what it is, the ringside seat at a non-stop hundred-ring circus, the wildest beast being me in the cage of my skull put through the motions by the great lion tamer. Nothing to do but admire it all, the décor framed by the window, the concert of waking birds, the percussion of the trucks—an endless opera.

***

The first yawn breaks like an avalanche. It clouds your glasses, drawing tears, as if the eyes were sponges that drain when they’ve seen too much.

***

In the symphony of the waking family, the toilets play percussion, the radio alarm hits a high note, stomachs grumble arpeggios to the piccolo of hungry sparrows. I am the reluctant conductor by default, because I don’t play an instrument. The creaking floorboards and opened doors applaud.


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Peter Wortsman (PEN member profile) is the author of work in multiple modes, including a book of short fiction, A Modern Way to Die; two plays, The Tattooed Man Tells All and Burning Words; prose poetry in an artists’ book, it-t=i, produced in collaboration with his brother, artist Harold Wortsman; and the travelogue/memoir Ghost Dance in Berlin, a rhapsody in gray, forthcoming in 2013 from Travelers’ Tales. His prose poetry has appeared in several anthologies, and he’s the translator of numerous books from the German, including, most recently, an anthology, Tales of the German Imagination, from the Brothers Grimm to Ingeborg Bachmann, forthcoming in 2013 from Penguin Classics. He’s a recipient of the Beard’s Fund Short Story Award, as well as Fulbright and Thomas J. Watson Foundation Fellowships, and he was the Holtzbrinck Fellow at the American Academy in Berlin in 2010.

Categories: Fragments Tags:

Conversation Camp

June 8, 2011 6 comments

by Peter Wortsman

They sent him to a conversation camp because he would not speak. Still he kept quiet. The guards, or interlocutors, as they were called, tried to worm the words out of him. Come now, they coaxed, why not speak of the weather. But he said nothing. His bunkmate, a quiet man like himself, who may or may not have been a covert interlocutor planted to make him speak, proved a comfort and a concern. In response to the man’s enquiring looks he shut his eyes tight and pressed his fists hard against them. He had no way of knowing if the man sympathized, as he was in any case replaced the next day by another. And every day the pressure mounted. It acted like a frame or a traffic light, something to bump up against to reaffirm what he had been given to believe, that there were invisible limits, barriers he could not even dream of getting beyond. Even so he had his doubt, and this doubt which he kept to himself, though they knew he had it, became a kind of currency for which he traded certain favors. Doubt fulfilled an unspoken need. A question mark to cling to as the last trace of that outmoded cache of envy and longing called self.


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Peter Wortsman (PEN member profile) is the author of work in multiple modes, including a book of short fiction, A Modern Way to Die; two stage plays, The Tattooed Man Tells All and Burning Words; prose poetry in the artists’ book it-t=i, produced in collaboration with his brother, artist Harold Wortsman, and in several anthologies; travel writing in numerous newspapers, magazines and websites, and in four consecutive volumes of The Best Travel Writing; and numerous translations from the German, most recently, Selected Prose of Heinrich von Kleist. He’s a recipient of the Beard’s Fund Short Story Award, as well as Fulbright and Thomas J. Watson Foundation Fellowships, and he was the Holtzbrinck Fellow at the American Academy in Berlin in 2010.

Categories: Imprisonment Tags: