Sunday, August 21, 2016

Suddenly, A Knock on the Door

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These are from Suddenly, A Knock on the Door: Stories by Etgar Keret, translated into English by Miriam Shlesinger, Sondra Silverston, and Nathan Englander and published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in 2012.  The collection was originally published in Hebrew as Pit'om Defikah Ba-Delet by Zmora-Bitan in 2010.

Two people were standing at the door.  A second lieutenant wearing a knitted yarmulke, and behind him, a thin officer with sparse, light-colored hair and captain's bars on her shoulders.  Orit waited a minute, and when she saw that they still weren't saying anything, she asked if she could help them.  "Druckman," the captain tossed the word, part command, part reprimand, at the soldier.  "It's about your husband," the religious soldier mumbled at Orit.  "Can we come in?"  Orit smiled and said that this must be some kind of mistake because she wasn't married.
--From "Simyon" by Etgar Keret, pp. 25-30, translated by Sondra Silverston.

I know a guy who fantasizes all the time.  I mean, this guy even walks down the street with his eyes shut.  One day, I'm sitting in the passenger seat of his car and I look over to the left and see him with both his hands on the wheel and his eyes shut.  No kidding, he was driving like that on a main street. 
--From "Shut" by Etgar Keret,  pp. 31-33, translated by Sondra Silverston.

Then one Thursday a fat, sweaty guy walked into the cafe and smiled at him.  Miron was caught off guard.  The last person to give him a smile was Maayan, just before she left him, five months earlier, and her smile had been unmistakably sarcastic, whereas this one was soft, almost apologetic.  The fat guy gestured something, apparently a signal that he'd like to sit down, and Miron nodded almost without thinking. 
--From "Healthy Start" by Etgar Keret, pp. 34-39, translated by Miriam Shlesinger.  "Healthy Start" is available online in Tin House

The man who knew what I was about to say sat next to me on the plane, a stupid smile plastered across his face.  That's what was so nerve-racking about him, the fact that he wasn't smart or even sensitive, and yet he knew the lines and managed to say them--all the lines I meant to say--three seconds before me.  "D'you sell Guerlain Mystique?" he asked the flight attendant a minute before I could, and she gave him an orthodontic smile and said there was just one last bottle left.
--From "Mystique"by Etgar Keret, pp. 58-59, translated by Miriam Shlesinger.

The first story Maya wrote was about a world in which people split themselves in two instead of reproducing.  
--From "Creative Writing" by Etgar Keret, pp. 60-65, translated by Sondra Silverston.

When the new great depression began, NW was hardest hit.  Its merchandise was meant for the affluent class, but after the Chicago riots, even the wealthy stopped ordering, some of them because of the unstable economic situation, but most of them because they just couldn't face their neighbors.
--From "September All Year Long" by Etgar Keret, pp. 142-145, translated by Sondra Silverston.

There are conversations that can change a person's life. 
--From "Joseph" by Etgar Keret, pp. 146-148, translated by Sondra Silverston.

There's a theory that says there are billions of other universes, parallel to the one we live in, and that each of them is slightly different.  There are the ones where you were never born, and the ones where you wouldn't want to be born.  
--"Parallel Universes" by Etgar Keret, pp. 153-154, translated by Miriam Shlesinger.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Short fiction by Haruki Murakami

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A mother and her son, Americans, were staying in the unit next door to my wife and me.  They seemed to have settled in long before we arrived.  The mother was around sixty, the son close to our age, twenty-eight or twenty-nine.  They resembled each other more than any mother and son I'd ever seen--both with identical long, narrow faces, broad foreheads, tightly set lips.  The mother was tall, her posture erect, her movements always alert and brisk.  The son seemed tall, too, but you really couldn't say for sure, as he was confined to a wheelchair.  Invariably, his mother was behind him, pushing the chair.  
--From "Hunting Knife," a short story by Haruki Murakami, translated from the Japanese by Philip Gabriel, published in Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman: 24 Stories (Vintage, 2007), pp. 84-99.  First published in The New Yorker (November 17, 2003).

Taking the occasional sip of bitter coffee, I slowly read the article.  I'd read a few lines to myself, mull over how to put it into Japanese, then translate aloud.  A few bees popped up from somewhere to lick the jam that a previous customer had spilled on the table.  They spent a moment lapping it up, then, as if suddenly remembering something, flew into the air with a ceremonious buzz, circled the table a couple of times, and then--again as if something had jogged their memory--settled once more on the tabletop.  After I had finished reading the whole article, Izumi sat there, unmoving, elbows resting on the table.  She tented the tips of the fingers of her right hand with the tips of her fingers of her left.  
--From "Man-Eating Cats," a short story by Haruki Murakami, translated from the Japanese by Philip Gabriel, published in Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman: 24 Stories (Vintage, 2007), pp. 112-130.  First published in The New Yorker (December 4, 2000).    

Every morning, [my roommate] was up at six on the dot, the national anthem his alarm clock.  So I guess the flag-raising wasn't a complete waste.  He dressed and went to wash up, taking an incredibly long time to finish.  Made me wonder sometimes if he wasn't taking each tooth out and brushing them individually.  Back in the room he smoothed out his towel, hung it on a hanger, and put his toothbrush and soap back on the shelf.  Then he'd switch on the radio and start exercising to the morning exercise program.  
        I was pretty much a night owl, and a heavy sleeper, so when he started up I was usually dead to the world.  When he got to the part where he began to leap up and down, I'd bolt out of bed.  Every time he jumped up--and believe me he jumped really high--my head would bounce three inches off the pillow.  Try sleeping through that.  
        "I'm really sorry," I said on the fourth day of this, "but I wonder if you could do your exercises on the roof or something.  It wakes me up."
        "I can't," he replied.  "If I do it there, the people on the third floor will complain.  This is the first floor, so there isn't anyone below us." 
        "Well, how about doing it in the courtyard?"
        "No way.  I don't have a transistor radio so I wouldn't be able to hear the music.  You can't expect me to do my exercises without music." 
        His radio was the kind you had to plug in.  I could have lent him my transistor, but it only picked up FM stations.
        "Well, at least could you turn the music down and stop jumping?  The whole room shakes.  I don't want to complain or anything, but . . ."
        "Jumping?"  He seemed surprised.  "What do you mean, j-jumping?"  
        "You know, that part where you bounce up and down."
        "What are you talking about?"
        I could feel a headache coming on.  
--From "Firefly," a short story by Haruki Murakami, translated from the Japanese by Philip Gabriel, published in Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman: 24 Stories (Vintage, 2007), pp. 226-248.  First published in the novel Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami (Vintage, 2012).    

Junpei left the house at eighteen when he went to college in Tokyo, and he became involved with several women, one of whom "had real meaning" for him.  He knew this with absolute certainty at the time, and he is just as certain of it now.  Before he could express his feelings in concrete form, however (by nature, it took him longer than most people to put things into concrete form), she married his best friend, and since then she has become a mother.  For the time being, therefore, she had to be eliminated from the list of possibilities that life had to offer Junpei.  He had to harden his heart and sweep her from his mind, as a result of which the number of women remaining who could have "real meaning" in his life--if he was going to accept his father's theory at face value--was reduced to two.  
--From "The Kidney-Shaped Stone That Moves Every Day," a short story by Haruki Murakami, translated from the Japanese by Jay Rubin, published in Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman: 24 Stories (Vintage, 2007), pp. 312-332.  First published in The New Yorker (September 26, 2005).  

Monday, July 25, 2016

Short stories by Alice Munro, Lara Vapnyar, and Rebekah Bergman, and a poem by Ellen Bass

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Hazel was cold in this room.  When she checked into the Royal Hotel, earlier in the afternoon, a woman with a puff of gilt hair and a smooth, tapered face had given her the once-over, told her what time they served dinner, and pointed out the upstairs lounge as the place where she was to sit--ruling out, in this way, the warm and noisy pub downstairs.  Hazel wondered if women guests were considered too respectable to sit in the pub.  Or was she not respectable enough? 
--From "Hold Me Fast, Don't Let Me Pass," a short story by Alice Munro, first published in The Atlantic and reprinted in her story collection Friend of My Youth (Alfred A. Knopf, 1990/Vintage, 1991), pp. 74-105.

Vadik arrived in New York on a snowy Saturday morning in the middle of winter.  He woke up as the plane started its descent into J.F.K. and quickly raised his window shade, hoping to catch a glimpse of that famous Manhattan skyline, but all he saw was a murky white mess.  It was still thrilling.
--From "Waiting for the Miracle," a short story by Lara Vapnyar, The New Yorker (April 25, 2016), pp. 80-85.

A taxicab drove into her living room.  There was a gaping hole where her wall had been with half of a taxicab still inside it, and she felt like hosting a party.  She did not know why.  
--From "Theme Party," a short story by Rebekah Bergman, Hobart (May 31, 2016).

We play this age-old sport that's kind of like fetch, except instead of a tennis ball, it is our guilt.  Also, the goal of the game is that it won't come back to you.  
--From "Dog," a short story by Rebekah Bergman, Hobart (May 31, 2016).

I looked like a woman.  
--From "Failure," a poem by Ellen Bass, The New Yorker (June 6 & 13, 2016), pp. 84-85.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Fiction by Yoko Ogawa

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Still, it wasn't immediately clear why a cousin, who was so much younger and had been out of touch for so long, should be calling to ask for something, nor could I imagine what I could possibly do to help him.  Instead of answering, I waited for him to continue.  "You see, I'm coming to college in Tokyo in April."
        "You can't be that old already!" I blurted out, honestly astonished.  He'd been a boy of four the last time I'd seen him.  
        "And I'm looking for a place to live, but I'm not having much luck.  Which is why I thought of you."
        "Me?"
        "Yes, I remembered hearing that you lived in a good dormitory when you were in school."  My years in the dormitory came back as we spoke, but the memories seemed as distant as those of playing with this young cousin.
--From "Dormitory," a novella by Yoko Ogawa, published in The Diving Pool: Three Novellas, translated from the Japanese by Stephen Snyder (Picador, 2008), pp. 109-164.  "The Diving Pool," "Pregnancy Diary," and ""Dormitory" were first published in Japan (1990, 1991).

It was March of 1992 when the Akebono Housekeeping Agency first sent me to work for the Professor.  At the time, I was the youngest woman registered with the agency, which served a small city on the Inland Sea, although I already had more than ten years of experience.  I managed to get along with all sorts of employers, and even when I cleaned for the most difficult clients, the ones no other housekeeper would touch, I never complained.  I prided myself on being a true professional. 
        In the Professor's case, it only took a glance at his client card to know that he might be trouble.  A blue star was stamped on the back of the card each time a housekeeper had to be replaced, and there were already nine stars on the Professor's card, a record during my years with the agency.
--From The Housekeeper and the Professor, a novel by Yoko Ogawa, translated from the Japanese by Stephen Snyder (Picador, 2009).  The Housekeeper and the Professor was originally published in Japan under the title Hakase no Aishita Sūshiki (Shinchōsha Publishing Co., Ltd., 2003).

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

The Doll Collection, an anthology of poems edited by Diane Lockward

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These are some of my favorite poems from The Doll Collection, an anthology edited by Diane Lockward and published by Terrapin Books in 2016.

(Full disclosure: one of my poems, "In the Chair Museum," which was originally published in Eunoia Review, also appeared in this collection.)


I spotted it wedged on a dusty shelf
behind a rose-pattern, porcelain trinket-tray. . . .
--From "Marriage Doll" by Luanne Castle, p. 20.  Reprinted from her first collection of poetry, Doll God (Aldrich Press).

her plastic body is only visible if you remove 
her mother's stomach the size and color of a vanilla wafer . . .
--From "The Pregnant Doll" by Nicole Cooley, p. 27.

I had my own baby carriage
for my baby dolls to ride in
a fine, four-wheel thing . . . 
--From "Carriage" by Akua Lezli Hope, p. 61.

The stove doesn't work.  The food is painted
on the refrigerator door. . . . 
--From "The Only House in the Neighborhood" by Sarah Rose Nordgren, p. 82.  Reprinted from her debut collection of poetry, Best Bones (University of Pittsburgh Press).

Two weeks after my mother's death, the doll was 
waiting under the tree, the blonde-haired Amy I'd 
dreamed over in the Sears Christmas catalogue . . .
--From "Madame Alexander's Amy" by Alison Townsend, pp. 110-111.  Reprinted from The Blue Dress: Poems and Prose Poems (White Pine Press).  

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Fiction by John L'Heureux and poetry by Denver Butson, Holly Iglesias, and Joyce Carol Oates

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Beverly and I were second graders at New Carew Street School and we both hated recess.  She hated recess and she cried the whole time and nobody knew why, so everybody made fun of her.  I hated recess because it wasn't really school and we weren't learning anything.  It was a waste of time.  I knew Beverly only by name and by what I could tell from spying on her.  Her last name was LaPlante, which was strange and therefore wrong, and she was known for being a crybaby. . . .
--From "Three Short Moments in a Long Life," a short story by John L'Heureux, The New Yorker (May 9, 2016), pp. 56-61.

as far as I know
there is no such place
as The Avalanche Café . . . 
--From "Avalanche Café," a poem by Denver Butson, The Adroit Journal, Issue 7 (Summer 2013).

a V formation 
of flying geese
slowly unzips 
the sky's dress . . . 
--From "The Sky Erotic," a poem by Denver Butson, The Adroit Journal, Issue 7 (Summer 2013).

Heading west from Black Mountain to Asheville, strip mall
strip mall strip mall,  and at the light in Swannanoa what
remains of the junk store where we shopped for wine glasses
for a party for your new friends the year we lived apart . . . 
--From "Ye Olde Whatever Shoppe," a poem by Holly Iglesias, Palaver (Spring 2016), p. 18.

Bolts of cotton and worsted wool stand upright until a woman
of indeterminate age rocks on free from the weight of the 
others and lugs it to the table . . . 
--From "Cutting Table," a poem by Holly Iglesias, Palaver (Spring 2016), p. 20.

This is the season when the husbands lie
in their hemp-woven hammocks for the last time
reading The Nation in waning autumn light . . . 
--From "This Is the Season," a poem by Joyce Carol Oates, The New Yorker (April 4, 2016), p. 65.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Short fiction by Luke Mogelson and Raj Ramaswamy

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I was staring at a brown sky.  Just moments earlier, a researcher from the United Nations Ornithological Department had told me that fecal particulate from the city's open sewage system made up an alarming proportion of the atmosphere in Kabul.  The researcher was the sort of person who would say, "If you really want something to write about . . ." or "You're looking for a story?  What if I were to tell you . . . ," as if, before meeting him, you had lived in darkness, scribbling claptrap of zero consequence to anybody.  He'd invited me to lunch because he had some urgent information regarding birds.  Something to do with the great migrations above the Hindu Kush, the desertification of Iranian wetlands, mass extinction.  "Have you ever seen a Siberian crane?" he asked me.  "No, you haven't.  No one in Afghanistan has seen a Siberian crane in the past twenty years."
        I pretended to take notes.  My notepad, back then, was mostly pretend notes.  Many of the pages featured detailed sketches of me killing myself by various means.  One especially tedious interviewwith a mullah, another fucking mullah holding forth from behind a vertical index fingerhad yielded a kind of comic strip of me leaping from a skyscraper, shooting myself in midair, and landing in front of a bus. . . . 
--From "Total Solar," a short story by Luke Mogelson, The New Yorker (February 29, 2016), pp. 58-63.

"Thank you, come again," this cop is saying in an impressive fake accent.  He's saying it to me, even though I'm the one standing here behind the register.  Even though I'm the quote-unquote Indian guy.  He's saying it to me because I won't say it to him, never have, never will.  I force a grin at him, and he pushes on out into the night, free coffee in hand.  It's this routine he has.  A joke.
--From "Night Shift," a short story by Raj Ramaswamy, Exposition Review (Flash 405, November 2015).