Category Archives: Winter 2018

The MUSE issue for winter 2018!

Wild Rose

Image: Rose Bud © Robert Mitchem. Source – CC Licence

Author: Sorcha Walsh

When David was six years old, Maria would cycle outside his house on her bicycle, pigtails flying, as she raced down the street. Once, he threw a ball at her, meaning for her to catch it, but it simply bounced against her head, the force of his throw knocking her to the ground. She didn’t cry then, simply let out a surprised “oh” as she hit the asphalt. Her elbow was scraped, and David, horrified, ran to help her up. He just wanted to play, he explained, nearly crying himself. Maria didn’t seem to mind, though, simply brushing the dirt off her bleeding arm.

From that moment on, David wanted more than anything to be friends with her. So, the next day, he knocked at her house on the corner with a wilted pale pink flower he had picked from her own mother’s flower bed by way of an apology. Maria tucked the flower behind her ear and wordlessly went outside to play with him. They played House in the tree at the end of the road, deciding which branch would be which room, and how they would decorate every room. She wanted every room to be purple, which David usually hated. He hated girly things. For Maria, though, he didn’t care. They spent hours in the tree, and only came home when the streetlights came on.

The next day, they did the same. It was a school holiday, so they could spend as much time as they wanted to outside, only coming home for a sandwich at lunch.

The summer passed in much the same way, each day a new game. They played House, Cats and Dogs, Doctor, and Tag in turn. When they got bored, they would sometimes play with the other children, but it was always together, Maria and David, David and Maria. Where there was one, there was the other. Their mothers got used to saying their names together, in one breath, as if they were one two-headed child. Mariandavid. Daveanmaria.

The next summer went by in much the same way, and the one after that. Hazy summer days turned into brisk autumn evenings which closed in to dank winter nights, which then slowly began to open themselves once again into a breezy spring where all life burst impatiently from the hard ground, before stretching out, languorously and luxuriously, into the kind of long summer day in which you can live a lifetime or two before teatime.

When Maria and David were eleven, Maria grew very suddenly. She became taller than David for the first time, and he couldn’t outrun her. He began to think that she was the most beautiful person he had ever seen, with her long blonde hair which had grown out in loose ringlets all the way down her back.

David knew that she didn’t really want to play with him every day anymore. She had girl friends now, who were tall as well, and they would share lip gloss and giggle at the break at school. She never really spent time with him at school either, but he didn’t mind. He was friends with plenty of boys, and they would kick balls and spit and act tough.

The next year, Maria began to stay at her friends’ houses, and never really said anything to David apart from “hi”, in passing. Still, he looked out for those greetings, treasured them, fancied he saw a glint of something more, something old in her eyes. Once, he went to her house with his parents, for a dinner party. They didn’t talk at the table, but he went to her room afterwards, just to see, just to know. There wasn’t any harm in it, it was just to see.

The year they both turned fourteen, there was a dance at school. Boys were asking girls and all the girls could talk about was who had asked whom. David knew nobody had asked Maria, had overheard her complaining to her friend about it. So, one day, he picked a pink flower from one of the neighbour’s gardens and knocked on Maria’s door.

She was very nice about saying “no”, very gentle. She didn’t mention the other man, and even gave David a kiss on the cheek, which would once have made him spasm with joy. But now his face remained leaden and downturned, and his mother remarked that he had the eyes of an old man when he came home that night.

The day of the dance arrived, much the same way dentist appointments do. David watched from his window as Maria went to her parents’ car, dressed in a beautiful white dress. Her hair was twisted up into a bun, with several loose locks framing her face. David thought his heart would burst from his chest just looking at her.

That night, he fell asleep with a darkly bruised flower clutched tight in his white-knuckled hand, under his rumpled pillow.

 

The next morning, he left home slightly earlier than he usually did. He stood on the street corner and bent down as if to pick a flower once more. When he heard the door to Maria’s house open his fingers closed instead around a rock. He stood up and turned to face her.

“Oh,” she said, her eyebrows raised. She must have been surprised to see him there. David didn’t respond. Instead, he raised his arm high above his head and brought the rock down in a sickening arc towards her head.

Her hair had been so blonde, he thought, so fine. It really wasn’t fair, it wasn’t nearly as nice matted up. He gently went to his knees and clutched her face, not minding how dirty his fingers got. He brushed her hair behind her ear, softly as if he were handling a porcelain doll. Her books lay scattered on the ground and her elbow was scraped where she fell.

The next year, and the year after that, the flowers grew redder than ever at the base of the white picket fence.

Poems by Muriel Salamin

Path
© Muriel Salamin

In what could be a forest, I wander.
My mind gets lost, like a small wild hedgehog.
The path I followed has led me nowhere,
Under the rain, the forest filled with fog.
So many trees, looking alike and I
Remain astray, with no one here for me.
The silence fills the woods, without a cry.
I still stumble, with nowhere else to be.
Suddenly, like the hedgehog, I’ve this need
To protect me. I try to close my eyes,
And thus, I hope no one will see me bleed.
Immediately, I feel panic arise.
          My eyes opening, all at once, this feel,
          This fear vanishes, I know I will heal.

 

George Moss living room
‘Living room in George Moss House’ © Theodor Horydczak. SourceCC License

The Couch

Do you remember your couch?
The orange one?
The one next to the window?
The one next to the TV?
The one we used to sit on for hours?

It is still here.
But no-one sits on it.
Not anymore.
Not since you are gone.

A Song from Solitude

Image: © Olena Danylovych

Author: Olena Danylovych

Foreword, ‘A Song from Solitude’

This poem was inspired by Byron’s ‘Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage,’ and also follows hero on their travels as they undergo an introspective journey. Unlike Childe Harold, the protagonist of ‘A Song from Solitude’ is a woman, Diana, who finds herself alone after leaving her homeland and consequently being unable to relate to others. Just like Childe Harold is based on Byron’s own personal history, so Diana’s beginnings are reminiscent of my own, though they have been exaggerated for poetic effect.

Though there are many similarities between ‘Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage’ and ‘A Song from Solitude,’ they are ultimately two very different poems. I have relied on the same poetic structure, following the introspective journey of our heroine as she travels through Grasmere and Chamonix, and placing some importance on the literary-historical significance of the locations, as well as on the experience of both picturesque and sublime landscapes. However, my focus rather on the interrelation between writing and social connectivity; whether having an audience inspires writing, or writing inspires an audience, I cannot say, though firmly believe that writing requires an audience (real or imagined). Therefore, writing and connectivity are necessarily linked to Diana’s journey, and influenced by the landscapes she travels through.

I had intended to include multiple references to the ‘Two-Lakes Romanticism’ course as a whole, though at some point the poem developed a life of its own. The most obvious connection is Diana’s itinerary, as it is inspired by our trips to Grasmere and Chamonix. I had also intended for Diana to develop a more equal relation towards Nature throughout the narrative, inspired by Dorothy Wordsworth’s ‘co-presence’ with her surroundings. The ethics of our relationship to Nature is something I had not given much thought to before, and was, for me, an important take-away from the course. However, this point was not developed in depth in the poem. Overall, the poem is inspired by texts we studied, the trips we went on, and what I learned throughout.

A Song from Solitude

1
Oh, Muse, who has inspired many a verse,
Who flies to poets worthier than I,
Yet one who falters, as if under a curse,
When paper, with my pen, I deign to dignify.
Yet come this once, and glean that inward eye,
Help put words the soundless song in me,
Through which one can but little comfort spy,
And though it of a modest value be,
It may yet find its place, not vanish into history.

2
Some time ago, in lands not far from here,
There was a youth who, spurning company,
Would seek the solitude of woods and meres,
Avoiding peers, choosing a lonesome destiny.
For her – for yes, our fable’s heroine’s a she –
There was no home, no one to call a friend;
When as a babe she left her mother-country,
She launched into her journey without end,
And thus she spent her life in other people’s land.

3
Diana she was called, though called by few,
For only loneliness did her those travels bring;
Always a recluse, forever passing through,
Without capacity for mutual understanding.
It was not hatred of her fellow beings
That lead her to deny those clay-cold bonds;
Nor was her solitude particularly freeing,
Nor did the landscapes to her thoughts respond.
Deprived of connectivity, she roamed a vagabond

4
And so it chanced, one day like any other,
When lounging on a bank in sad reflection,
Diana, watching folk and flowers stir,
Was struck with a perceptive apprehension –
The sudden answer to that tireless question
That oft had danced upon her silent lip.
To write, she thought, would bring about redemption;
Providing meaning to that endless drip
Of life that would not stop for her, nor she for it.

5
To Grasmere, then, she followed in the steps
Of those who came before and left their legacy.
In truth, those hills a valued treasure kept:
There was a William, and with him Dorothy,
Who walked those paths, forever spilling poetry;
One was the fount, the other – dutiful receptacle,
Producing art through mutual reciprocity.
And while this practice rendered many sceptical,
There’s something to be said for love and writing, above all.

6
Yet, while their words were powerful and clear,
Not even they could truthfully communicate
The beauty and the wonder of Grasmere –
Those rolling hills, those trails, which all create
Impressions of protection. Diana stood within
That luscious nest, surveying Heaven’s gate,
Which was the closest to divinity she’d been,
A place of peaceful reign, of love incarnate;
Enraptured and transfixed, she fell to earth prostrate.

7
Yet she was not alone! Though from her infancy
She had not had affinity with any other,
She now was found, treated with empathy.
A kindly soul, a shepherd, wanderer, brother,
Was crossing those soft hills and saw her falter,
And though he used to walk a lonely way,
He now was found, no more alone than her.
Together they walked home in fading day,
In such a happiness, that none can truly say.

8
Yet Diane’s journey had only just begun,
For she still wished to write a worthy tale,
A mighty pilgrimage, a story to be sung.
There were still things to see, and mounts to scale;
Ferocious landscapes, crags, and plunging vales.
She would not stay, not for the world, nor him
Who ere had saved her. She left the dales
That gave her many comforts, on a whim,
And for the Alps she set, leaving her sole companion.

9
Far in the distance she had seen those peaks,
That now did tower and press upon her head,
And yet, resolved, she climbed to Chamonix,
Obsessed with all the histories it held;
Here Wordsworth came, and Mary Shelley tread,
All equally impressed by palaces of stone,
The icy pinnacles that to the Heavens spread
And wither every heart, and chill each bone.
Against those heights, who could not help but feel alone?

10
While Grasmere’s dales with soft embrace surround you,
The alpine tracks compel you to the top,
Where nothing lives, and solitude reigns true;
Only yourself, the emptiness, the drop –
Enough for any mortal to give up.
All Nature’s appalling magnificence
Did not expand her soul – near made it stop.
Aware of her small insignificance,
Diane descended, yearning for mortal, mutual existence.

11
So she, who never knew a friend or home,
Who used to wander lonely, land to land,
And destined felt to cross the world alone,
Had found someplace to make her final stand.
She went at once to those green, Northern lands,
Those gentle views, and enveloping hills
Where there awaited that lone, patient friend.
Ascending Alps had brought her little thrill,
While great, warmth and connection are far greater still.

12
It may not be a shock to some, that I
Am she, Diane, the self-same wanderer,
The one who travelled wide, and low, and high,
And after seeking danger and adventure,
Has deemed relation as the foremost treasure.
I shall not climb those isolating summits,
When friends and gentle hills inspire me more;
To Grasmere’s welcome hug I now submit,
Which, with this song, I hope never to forget.

Two Lost Souls

Image © sleep. Source – CC Licence

Author: Chloé Manz

I have always wondered ‘why am I on Earth? What do I do here, what is my fate – by the way, is there such thing as ‘fate’?’ Because if there is, I am asking myself what the hell have I done to deserve that, and if there is only free will, God, what did I do? Where did it fail? And now I am about to end my miserable life at the top of the world… “funeral pile”…What was I thinking about? I have been a wretch since my first days of life, my creator rejected me when I was only a new born in this world and the world itself, rejected me, rejected the new born that I was…If free will rules that world, let me tell you something, World: ‘I didn’t choose to be born!’. My voice echoes as I was addressing to the sky. Everything around is still, white. The wind had stopped and all I can hear is the echo of my voice hitting the icebergs. Even the sea is quiet, still. Time has stopped and is waiting for me to do something. Lighting this fire? After having seen my master, my creator lying in that bed, as cold as stone and as blue as the oceans’ waters, all my anger faded away. I realised that I was, this time, completely alone. Frankenstein, although I hate him for what he has done to me, for what he inflicted on me, was my only parent in this Earth. Now that he is gone, I am completely alone. I am an orphan. That thought hit me when I saw his dead body; he denied me the right to have a companion and condemned me to solitude – may he burn in hell for that – but still, he was my creator; I was tied to him like I will never be tied to anyone on Earth. And at that very moment, I wanted to end with my life. I wanted to disappear from this inhospitable planet. Because let’s face it: why was I born? And now, I’m standing on my stake, looking at the endless horizon. I close my eyes. Breathe. I remember my first awakening in this world. My first encounter with humans.

The incomprehension to their spite towards me. What had I done aside from… being born? Is it my crime? Being born? I was so angry at my creator who inflected me so much pain, driven by a selfish desire of becoming a new God. And then my first murder. And how I liked it. Yes. I liked the feeling of depriving someone of his life so easily. Feeling the last spark of life leaving this frail body. ‘God dammit, light up that stupid fire and all the pain will end!’ But I can’t.

I learnt through books I stole during my wandering, that this instrument I (also) stole in Captain Walton’s cabin, they call it ‘magnifying glass’ and can serve to light up a fire. All I have to do is presenting the glass to the sun, being very careful to aim at the wood under me and WUUUF! I burn. I look at this instrument in my hand; it is beautiful. I examine it, how the sun reflects in the glass, how I can see the details of the wood under me. ‘You’re trying to win time’, whispers a little voice inside of me. No, I am not. Or maybe I am? I am not sure anymore that I want to leave this world…at least not yet. I have so many things to learn. ‘Yes, but you are alone now. If you live, you are condemned to a life of solitude’. The voice is right. However, I stared at this vast blue area in front of me. The beauty of it is breath-taking; I could spend hours looking at it. So, I sit down on my pyre, decided to enjoy my last view on earth. I don’t know how many hours passed but suddenly, my pyre collapses under my feet; I am too heavy for it and I fall on the ground. It was a sign. The sign that someone up there does not want me to die today. But first, I need to cover my traces. I collect the wood, rebuild the pyre and with the magnifying glass, set the pyre on fire. I also throw this piece of cloth that covered my chest in the flames, so if someone finds the pyre, they’ll assume that I died here. Or maybe that the rests of my body have been taken away by these white bears. I read somewhere that they can eat anything when they are starving. Now that the pyre starts burning, I have to decide where to head; I could go in the New World, hiding in these vast areas that they call the Far West. Or head towards the South in the Amazonian forest. But I don’t want to stay alone… I need a companion… My first try failed…and my other attempt to get a female like me also… all of that because of Frankenstein’s selfishness!!

WHY DID YOU REFUSE ME THAT PRIVILEGE YOU DAMN SELFISH MAN! I don’t know if shouting to the sky will do something – I’ve read somewhere that people who have something to say to their deads turn their head to the sky and then they get a sign that their declaration has been heard – but I’ve never tried it myself. In any case, what can a dead man do against me while no living man was able to hurt me in a significant way? I’m still waiting, though. I’ve never understood this notion of faith and religion. People put their fate and decisions in the hands of their creator, but I am well placed to say that the creator does not care at all for his little creations. Let’s be honest: my creator created only one being – me – and was not able to fulfil his obligations towards me; so how could a creator, who is supposed to have created billions and billions of beings, fulfil his obligations towards them? We were born alone, we live and we die alone, that’s my opinion.

Once, while I was following my creator – well no, he does not deserve this name, I need to find him another nickname… I could call him ‘the wretch’, he deserves this name more than me – so, while I was following him through Europe waiting for him to give me my companion, I found myself in front of a strange house. It was constructed with red rectangular pieces of stone, and there was a part that was higher than the roof. A sort of tower. At its top, I could see two bells and a cross. It was passed midnight and no one was in the surroundings so I went closer to the main door – a big wooden door with an inscription on it “Eglise de Omonville-la- Rogue, toute a?me perdue est la bienvenue” but I couldn’t understand this language. I think I’ve heard my wretch creator – I cannot help but calling him ‘creator ‘– telling that it was French. Anyway, there was a translation under it saying “Church of Omonville-la-Rogue, any lost soul is welcomed” and I smiled. I was a lost soul after all, therefore, this place was for me. Maybe I could find a companion in it? I entered in the ‘church’ as it is called. There were candles lighten up, wooden banks on each side of the alley and at the end of the alley, a small table with a big open book on it and above the table, a man attached to a cross, his head falling. ‘He needs help!’ was my first thought. So, I ran to help him but then I realised it was a sculpture.

And the man was not ‘attached’ to the cross but nailed to it by the wrists and the feet. What a barbaric image! And the man also had a wound on his right chest. I did not understand. Then I was attracted by the book on the table. A wonderful piece of art! The cover was in leather and the pages seemed to have some gold on them. I decided to flick through it, to see if I could learn things about this place for “lost souls”. And this is how I discover what humans call religion: believing that a superior being exists, that he created them and above all, that he loves them and so on. Love…. What is this? I don’t know… I cannot know. All I know is hatred. So I guess that love is the opposite of hatred. I don’t know where humans see love in their God – this is how they call him in that book, that is named ‘Bible’. From what I read in the book in comparison to what I have observed in the world so far, I don’t understand in what consists God’s love in this world. They are wars, they are murders, crimes and there is me. An abomination, a nightmare for humanity, even its enemy! If their God exists, why did he allow me to be created? And why did he let the Serpent tempt Eve? Or her eat the apple? I am the desolation of humanity, I hate it because it hates me for no reason other than being physically different. From what I heard when I was listening to the De Lacey, the human race has this specific tendency to reject the Other, the one that is different from them. They started with a different skin colour, different customs and then different religions. No, I am sorry but there is no God, or at least, no loving God. Only a sadistic ruler.

It is time for me to leave now, I have decided to head towards a land that I know, Switzerland. I could live in the mountains, I can find a cave and live there. At first, I wanted to head to the vast and desert regions of Siberia but, as I said, there are desert. Even if I’m destined to be alone, as the only one of my kind, it does not mean that I have to live as a hermit…or at least, not too far from civilization. Truth must be told, I want to learn more; that is the only reason why I’m still alive. Knowledge is a strength if you use it correctly and I want to gain more knowledge. And I want a companion too. I’m resolute in that. I know that my first attempt – well, my first two attempts were a failure – but it is because I didn’t do it in the right way!

I wanted to kidnap a child that had a family, which means that they are going to look for him, hunt me down. Besides, I also did not have any place to keep him. So, I need to kidnap someone that no one cares of. I need to kidnap an orphan! This wonderful plan suddenly fills me with such a strange feeling! My heart is like swollen and I surprise myself into giving a faint smile. I think this is what human call hope. I read it in the Bible. Christians are living with the hope of getting a better life after death…hahahahaha load of rubbish! But even, hope is a feeling that moves them, that comforts them throughout their insignificant life. And I am getting comforted. Knowing that I have a better plan to get a companion – even if this companion will not be like me – comforts me in such a way that I jump straight in the icy waters of the Arctic Ocean and swim in the direction of where the sun goes down (I also learnt that in one of the books I stole). I am happy. I won’t be alone anymore.

Part II

I’ve never thought today will be the last day of my life. Well, let me be clearer; when I say life, it is not as if mine had been very thrilling. I don’t know if we can even call that ‘a life’. And be reassured, I’m not dead. By “last day of my life” I meant “last day of my current life”. I’ve always loved being dramatic. My life was amazing until my 8 years; I had a loving family, a lovely house but everything stopped suddenly during this winter night. I don’t know what happened. All I remember is me waking up in the arms of a fireman, watching the huge flames devastating my house. From this day, I’ve never opened my mouth anymore. I was sent first into a hospital, where the doctors, policemen, firemen and nurses tried to make me talk. But I didn’t know anything. It was a crapulous crime they said. They arrested a suspect a few weeks later, who confessed having lighten up the fire to teach a lesson to my father. But I didn’t know what kind of lesson it was. How can you teach a lesson to a dead man? Anyway, he was condemned and executed. And I was sent into an orphanage. I’ve never known why I was the only one who survived. And this is what I’ve been doing these last years: surviving in a world where I don’t want to be. But I can’t end with my life. It will be unfair towards my parents.

So, I stay alive and try to cope with what happened to me. In the orphanage, there are a lot of women, supposed to act as substitute mother but my mother never beat me or starve me for punishment. They make you feel that you are not wanted, that you are a mistake of nature or whatever insult they can find to insult you. Today is the 15th October 18– and this is the last day of my actual life.

The orphanage organizes every autumn an excursion into the woods near the mountains – surely in the hope of getting rid of at least one of us (yes I read Ha?nsel & Gretel, I know that when adults who do not like children bring them into the forest, it is to abandon them). We left this morning around eight and took the forest path at the end of the village, the one that goes along the river and then climbs up in the mountain. The trees there are so thick that the sun barely manages to light up the path. We’ve never been there before, I’m suspecting that something is going on. We are only five children left in this orphanage. The others were either adopted because they were younger, either they ran away to a better life. I’m not sur that they found a better life, that is why I stay here. At least, I have a roof and food. Even if they beat us. All you have to do is keeping quiet, taking care of the younger because these women hate tears. If they catch you weeping, they don’t comfort you like a true mother should; instead of that, they grab you by the hair if they are long, or by the ears, and throw you in the basement for the night. Well, my four companions and I are now walking in the forest; it is still, at the exception of the head supervisor who sometimes whips the one who does not walk quickly enough to her liking. Around noon – well I guess it is noon, we can barely see the sun down there – we stop for lunch. All we have is a piece of bread, with a piece of mouldy cheese and of course water. Dehydrating us wouldn’t be acceptable, you know. One of the youngest starts suddenly crying “I don’t want to eat thaaaaaaaaaat, it’s disgusting!”. The “nurse” (because she does not really care for us, if you see what I mean), shouts at the little girl: ‘you’d better stop crying right now and eat your cheese otherwise, you could regret it’.

Me and the other children look at her, imploring her to stop crying because we know that this nurse is the worst of the four we have at the orphanage. And knowing that they all belong to the witch lane, ‘worst’ here is not a hyperbole. Once, by an access of rage because I didn’t want to finish my meal after spotting a worm in it, she grabbed me by the hair, threw me down on the corner and whipped my back three or four times with her belt. I still have the scars. And from that day, I swore to God – well, or to the sky, because I don’t think any God would ever allow his children to suffer – that I will get my revenge. But Nora, the little girl, not knowing this nurse, throws her piece of cheese on the ground, still crying and screaming.

She had signed her death warrant.
The nurse, calmly and smiling looks at her and murmurs: ‘you shouldn’t have done that’. By saying so, she stands up, heads for the little girl and sticks the cheese in her throat. The head supervisor was looking on the other way, as if by doing so, she wouldn’t be accused of complicity. I closed my eyes. I don’t want to see. But I can still hear Nora’s tears and the sound of her choking. ‘She’s dying!’ I hear one of the boys screaming. ‘Do something, the cheese is stuck in her throat and she can’t breath! Monster!’ This is more than I can stand. I stand up and start running. I run as fast as I can without looking back. I hear the head supervisor screaming ‘come back you little bastard!’. And I hear the sound of someone running after me. But I don’t look back. A branch whips my face but I don’t stop. I start crying but I don’t stop. She’s still behind me but she is heavier and I can hear her getting breathless and stopping. But I don’t stop. ‘You’d better keep running! If I ever catch you, trust me, you’ll never be able to run again little bitch!’ I lost her. I don’t know how but I lost her! Maybe it’s a trick and if I stop she will jump on me. So, I keep running. I don’t know for how long, all I know is that there is a strange force inside of me that keeps me running and running without getting breathless. Suddenly, I feel the ground collapsing beneath my feet and I saw my body falling and rolling down the slope and my head hitting a rock. It is as if I was outside my body, suddenly.

All I know is that I was out for a few hours; I wake up in a kind of cave – I assume it was a cave because it doesn’t look like the place where I fell or maybe I fell so hard that my body went through the ground and fell in a cave. Anyway, the actual situation is that I am in a cave. Alone. And it is dark outside. What have I done? Why have I run away? I am used to that kind of violence from the nurses towards us so why this time was I unable to stand it? All I know for sure, is that I heard a little voice inside of me telling me to run away, to leave this kind of life and that now was my only chance to get a better life. And I followed it. I thought at first that it was my mom’s voice, that she was trying to protect me but why running in the woods? There is no one here, aside from…wild animals? Bears? Ogres? I try to stand up but suddenly my body reminds me of that fall and there is something holding up my arm. I close my eyes and reopen them, so they can become used to obscurity. There is some kind of splint around my forearm and a sort of grey cloth enveloping it. Someone, or something, had taken care of my broken arm. But who? I have heard legends about some spirits inhabiting and protecting the forest… Naaa these are, as they are called, legends. But still, someone did this to me. I try again to stand, this time, paying attention to my arm. A huge pain on my head obliges me to sit down again. I touch my head with the other hand and.. OH GOD! What a huge bump! I must look like a unicorn…with a horn on the right side of the forehead but still, a distorted unicorn. ‘What kind of rubbish are you saying!’, it may be the fall and the bump. I’m not myself though. Okay, now focus and try to determine where you are.

It took me few hours to explore the cave. It is dry, at least, because outside it has started to rain. Unfortunately, I also discovered that my exit is blocked by a huge stone, that only lets the air come through. Otherwise, I’m condemned to be stuck in this cave. Maybe my guardian angel protects me from the people of village. Or it is an ogre who keeps me in its food safe before eating me! No, no, no, just calm down. An ogre would have eaten you with or without a broken arm. It does make no difference for it, the meat is still there. Look at me! Talking about how human meat can be consumed! I must have hit my head quite strong on that rock!

I think I’ve arrived to the end of the cave and guess what? No exit. Just a flat dumb wall of stone with no openings. Suddenly, I hear the stone at the entrance of the cave being moved.

I run back to my “bed” in order to spot my guardian angel but damn, I missed it/him/her. On the ground, a sort of plate with some cheese – not mouldy this time – a piece of bread and some kind of…meat? At the smell of the meat, my stomach reminds me that I’ve haven’t eaten for two days. With my hands, I bite into the cooked meat – I think it is rabbit, but I don’t care, I’m starving – and gobble it up. The same fate awaits the cheese and the bread. I shout ‘Thank you!’ in direction of the stone door but no one answers. At least during the two minutes following my thanking. Then, I hear a slight ‘You’re welcome’. The voice at first, frightens me. It is a really deep, almost sepulchral voice. But I feel something else in this voice; it is something that I can’t explain, maybe because this is something you don’t often link with that kind of voice.

Softness!
That’s what it is! A soft deep sepulchral voice. That’s strange. Normally, that kind of voice is related to a monster, an ogre, you know? When grown-ups tell a fairy tale, every time an ogre appears in the narrative, they imitate that kind of voice. Maybe ogres do exist after all! Maybe it hasn’t eaten me yet, because I’m not fat enough! ‘Calm down’ murmurs my little voice. ‘There you are, you who forced me to run away from food and from a roof! My life wasn’t perfect I admit it, but still, I was fed and I was warm’. ‘Yes, but you were alone’. ‘Alone? And what am I now? Surrounded by a loving family maybe? And who are you, to force people to run like they’ve never run before? Are you a… (damn this is becoming ridiculous) a spirit?’. ‘I am you, Moona’.

This answer lays me out.
This little voice that I thought was my mom or some stupid spirit of the forest, was actually…mine? How is that even possible? I try to think but my head hurts so much at the moment that it is impossible for me to find a plausible answer. I lay down and fall asleep. I wake up again with a full plate in front of me. Wild berries this time. Maybe there was no spirit

or ghost whispering to my ears to run away but there is definitely someone who found me wounded and decided to take care of me. I don’t know yet his/her/its reasons for doing this but I am thankful. For the cares and for the food. The same scheme lasts for a few days, every time my guardian angel brings me some food, some clothes – too big for me – and even a second blanket and a cloth to change my splint, and every time I missed him/her/it. This is a complete mystery. And good for me, I love mysteries. It is decided, next time, I’ll spot my guardian angel and oblige him/her/it to face me. I’m resolute. And stubborn too. That’s what my father used to say. In the cave, there is a little pond with water coming from the outside. Just above that little pond, there is a sort of excrescence of stone where I’m sure, a human child can hide. It is as if someone tried to dig a second path in the stone but failed and now there is this very little…floor? I try and, yes, I can fit in it. Now let’s see if I can jump from it to the cave’s ground without falling in the pond and hurting myself. I already have a broken arm, I think that’s enough. I take a deep breath and jump! I land safely on the ground! Now, I can surprise my guardian angel. Now, I’m ready to face it.

Today, is the day. The day where I will meet with my guardian angel. Yesterday, I discovered that it was totally possible to hide behind “stone curtain” as I like to call it. I missed my guardian angel at breakfast but I won’t miss it tonight. When night starts to fall, I hide behind the “curtain” and wait. I don’t know for how long but suddenly I hear steps; this being must be very heavy because its steps make a muffled sound. I’m starting to be afraid but there is no time for retreat. The being moves the stone and makes a step into the cave. I hold back my breath. The being that enters the cave is from a huge complexion. I’ve never seen a human being so big and…large. I cannot see its face, it is covered by a hood but I can see that its skin is grey. A stone giant? Well, I’m decided, so when I see it heading back to where it came from, I jump from my hiding place and shouts ‘there you are! Spot you!’. The creature stops but does not turn round to me. I can see the muscles of its back through his clothes. I can see its breathing. But I cannot see its face. ‘What are you?’ I say? ‘Why did you save me?’. But no answer comes.

I try another solution to have it talk. ‘Thank you for looking after me after my fall, for feeding me and for keeping me safe. That is what you meant, right? Keeping me safe?’. ‘Yes.’ This voice again. So deep that I have the feeling of talking to a very ancient creature. A creature of the stone. I don’t feel afraid anymore. I spot something sad in this voice too. ‘Why did you do that?’. ‘You needed help. I saw you running as if the devil was chasing you…’. ‘It kind of was’. ‘I saw you falling and hitting that rock with your head. I heard a woman’s voice coming. She arrived breathless where you had fallen, looked at you and said with a lot of cruelty ‘look at you now, you cannot run anymore. You can die in this forest I don’t care. You’re an orphan, no one will ever be looking for you’. And then she left, laughing. From that moment, I knew I had to save you. So, I took you, took care of your arm and head and brought you in that cave.’ ‘I am very grateful for that, but why hiding?’. ‘Because I need a friend’. ‘If you hide you won’t find any friend’. ‘I hide because my complexion is abominable; if you see me as I am, you’ll scream and run away. And I’ll stay alone for ever’. I was right, this was really sadness that I felt in his voice. He is alone, like me but desperate to find someone. I can understand that. I’ve been alone since my family died. I’ve never really enjoyed the company of other children, even if they all lost their family too. I don’t know why. This creature in front of me just makes me feel sad but also triggers something in me that I am not able to define yet. ‘I won’t run I promise. Please, let me see you. You are my guardian angel after all. You could have let me die in these woods but you didn’t’. The creature mumbles something that I cannot hear. Something like ‘they all run when they see me’. I was stunned. I could feel his pain. How much had he had to suffer to be so afraid of human beings? I make a step towards him, without a noise, and place my hand against his back. He shutters and grumbles but does not run away. Under my hand, his muscles are fraught, I can feel how nervous and, afraid at the same time, he is. I can also feel some bulges here and there in his back. They draw a kind of…line? What is he? As if he had guessed my questionings, he answers: ‘I am not a human being. I was created what it seems now, a very long time ago.

I’m hideous in my complexion because my creator broke the rules of nature. He rejected me and I had to revenge. Now he is dead and I’m alone. I wanted to immolate myself on a pyre at the North Pole but was unable to do so. Why? I don’t know. Now I am here, I’ve been living in that cave for the last months but solitude kills me. I need a companion’. By saying so, he turns round and faces me. With his big grey hand, he takes off his hood. ‘Oh god what happened to you?!’ is my first reaction. Well, I have to admit, it is my second reaction. But it is my first loud and visual reaction. He is monstrous, I have to be honest. I almost fainted when I saw his face, I admit. But there is something that prevents me from running away and that thing, or better said, those things are: his eyes. They are extremely white, which, I have to admit it also, is scary. But if you pass the first impression, you can discern such a sadness that prevents you from hurting that being anymore. I take a deep breath, still looking at him.

MUSEfeed quiz 2018- what should you study in the English department?

Image: Studying © Sarel Kromer. Source – CC Licence

Author: Sorcha Walsh

As one of the Lettres faculty’s biggest departments, the English department offers a wealth of different classes. We here at MUSE have crafted this quiz to help you decide- should you orient yourself towards Medieval literature, Early Modern and modern literature, American literature and culture, Comparative Literature, Gender Studies or English Linguistics?

Head right on over to BuzzFeed to find out.

The Golden Rope

Image: © Kelly Rudland

Author: Gilles Bingahi

Once upon a time, in the 1800s, in a small village located in the depths of Italy, called Torviscas, there lived a farmer named Kit with his wife Rosemary. His life was very rough, he had to wake up every day at five in the morning and to work in his field with his cattle until ten at night. In the evening he was always exhausted, but his beloved wife gave him the strength to continue. He would do everything for her, she was his reason to live. All the village appreciated him because even if he had a hard life, he was always ready to help his neighborhood and his friends. Even the king Duclos of Torviscas loved him. Some years before Kit had saved his son’s life when he was attacked by a very dangerous wild bear. Every month Kit offered gifts to God, he didn’t sacrifice animals because it would be too easy, but he climbed up the highest mountain of Italy, and prayed there all day giving the gods some drops of his own blood in sign of gratitude for his life.

Winters were cold and merciless, sometimes there wasn’t enough food to feed his family. That year the situation was particularly difficult, the drought dried his entire crops of wheat, the sun was so brutal that it burned his whole field, and finally the fire burned his remaining food supply that was located in a small hut in the vicinity of his field. The cattle contracted an improbable illness called foot-and-mouth disease, which killed all his lambs and made them contagious and uneatable.

The starvation began, Kit suffered more to see his wife becoming weak than his proper shortage. He couldn’t tolerate seeing Rosemary in so miserable a condition. He implored the neighbouring farmers for food, but they had already sold all of it. He didn’t know what to do. He tried to hunt in the forest, but it was empty. So, he decided to try the only solution left, the most dangerous one. He infiltrated himself the king’s garden by night and decided to steal six deer from the royal family. He moved very carefully and silently in order not to be noticed by the guards. That task was very difficult because there were always a lot of soldiers monitoring the royal castle and its garden. When at last he found the deer, he noticed that a guard was watching over them. So, he took a little stone in his hand and threw it on the other side of the garden in order to create a diversion. This trick was successful; in fact, the guard immediately ran on the other side of the garden. He knew that he had very little time, so he agilely jumped over the gate, passed through a little river that separated the garden in two parts, and without a noise, he attached the deer with a solid rope. When he was ready to leave, the guard was coming back. He had just the time to hide himself in a bush without being noticed. And again, the only one solution left for Kit was not an easy one. He moved very slowly in the dark towards the standing guard, took a big stone from the river, and approached very carefully closer to him. Kit was dressed in black, so he was invisible in the darkness of the night, and when he stood behind the guard, he knocked him on the head. He knew exactly how strong he had to hit to keep him alive, because he used to do it with his cattle. The guard was just knocked out, and he would wake up after one or two hours. Finally, Kit rushed to the portal with the stolen deers and went home to feed his starving wife.

Days followed one another, Kit lived in fear of being discovered by the king. He knew what the consequences would be if he were caught. But finally, he didn’t receive any warning from the king Duclos, and he started to be relieved. It was the first time of his life that he stole something from someone. He prayed day and night to be forgiven by the gods, but he didn’t feel untroubled as usual.

The king Duclos wasn’t smart at all, his only preoccupation in life was to eat, he lived to eat, and he ate to live. He was a huge dripping descending mountain of fat. When he saw his meat disappear, he was so angry that he wanted revenge, he wanted his deer back immediately. Duklini, one of the most faithful and effective vassals of the king, was charged with finding the stolen animals, bringing them back in the royal garden, and bringing the thief to the king in order to be severely punished. Duklini was a bad person, he overtaxed his people to keep money for his own. He told them that a big part of what they payed would be given to the church, and that would ensure them the free access to paradise. Duklini had a personal philosophy, he believed in God in his own way, and was convinced that it is much safer to be feared rather than loved. Because fear allows full control on other people by a dread of punishment.

He went on the suburbs and questioned everyone he saw about the robbery, but everybody answered to his questions in the same way: they knew nothing about it. In reality they all imagined that the thief was the farmer because of his recent bad luck with his cattle and field. Every one of them heard about Duklini, they knew what he would do to the farmer, so they kept their mouths shut. After ten same negative answers Duklini lost his patience, madness took place in his head instead of his already altered wisdom. He kidnapped a whole family composed of the parents and two children in his residence and tortured them one by one to have the answers he wanted. He hit them until they bled, but no useful information came out. Finally, he took one of the two children, and cut his throat in front of his parents. Then he took the second one, put a knife on his mouth and tore away a tooth. The little boy cried and was afraid to die. At that moment the parents decided to talk and to report the farmer. Having got the information he wanted, Duklini killed them all. That would prevent them from telling what they had to endure with him. He had to preserve his own image.

The next morning, a hundred soldiers came to the house of the farmer and arrested him. They took him in front of his majesty. The king Duclos was the judge of the trial and said:

Mister Kit, I knew you since you were a little boy, I attended to your birth. Your father was my best friend when we were young. You look exactly like him, a brave person that will ever be remembered. You’re the most appreciated person of this community, you saved my own son on the Monica’s forest, and for that I shall always have a debt to you. You also helped our people to survive from starvation when you had a good year. But you broke the law, you dared to penetrate into my garden, hit a guard and stole my dinner! I can’t allow it; the law is the same for everybody and cannot be changed. God, please forgive me. I sentence you to die, tomorrow at midnight you will be hung in front of the entire village in the very place where you were born. In your farm. A golden rope will be passed around your neck. It is a rare and honorable privilege. Until tomorrow, you will be held in the prison of the castle.

Rosemary cried and begged the king to let him live. In exchange she was ready to die for him, but Duclos didn’t want to hear anything. He went for a dinner and then fell asleep. He was very upset because that evening he had to eat only vegetables without meat because of Kit.

The night was long for Kit, the walls were stone. There was a smell of sadness and moisture in the air, rats were his only company during that night. A window allowed the passage of a faint light into the darkness that reigned in the prison cell. He felt lonely and had a terrible urge to be comforted by Rosemary’s arms. He missed so much the touches of his loving wife. He spent the whole night thinking about justice, or rather the injustice. Could it be that there was some sort of error? He had saved the life of the prince, had always been generous and good to everyone, prayed every single day of his life, and there he was, waiting the twelve strikes of the bell that would mark the end of his life on a gallows pole. He wanted that somebody would tell him that he was dreaming. He took a look through the bars at the last sights of a world that became very wrong for him. The priest came in the cold cell to read him the last rites. The words escaped him when he tried to speak, tears flowed, and he cried. He knelt down and asked the gods a last favor. He wanted Duclos to be forgiven for his unfair decision. He also implored them to make Rosemary happy for the rest of her life. Then he fell asleep.

The day came and the citizens of Torviscas had to prepare the execution. They had to provide a big place to welcome all the people of the village to attend the last terrible moment of their friend Kit. It was cloudy and windy; the storm was ready to blow up. A sad atmosphere reigned there. It was 11:55 p.m. and everyone was there, everyone. The guards marched him out to the courtyard. Somebody from the audience cried him “May God be with you!”. Kit was up with the golden rope around his neck, he didn’t cry, stood up straight and looked proud. He wasn’t afraid to die. He was waiting for the last minutes of his life. He felt the wind on his face. Rain was devastating the kingdom, the lightning struck, it was as if God was watching the scene and disagreed with the decision of the fatty king. Suddenly, the bell began to chime, every knock was like a knife which would stab Kit in his heart. When the eleventh knock rang, a little child in the crowd cried loudly and headed toward Duklini, which was sitting next to the executioner. King Duclos stared at the boy and made a sign with his hand to interrupt the execution. Everyone was looking at the little kid in front of Duklini, who was pointing a finger against him. He was covered in blood and had a big scar on his throat. Everybody in the crowd recognized him now. He was one of the sons of the family which had disappeared mysteriously some days before.

The boy looked in the eyes of the cruel Duklini, his look was full of hate and sadness. He was weak, severely wounded, and started to cry. He was so desperate that the king enveloped him in his warm arms and asked him what happened. The little boy told him all the story, the way in which the evil vassal chopped off the heads of his family while he was suffocating in his own blood in the ground like an earthworm in front of them. The wound in his throat hadn’t been deep enough. The boy survived, managed to reach the street where he had been assisted by a priest who was passing by at that moment. Duclos was out of breath, he realized the consequences of his bad decision. An innocent would have been murdered just in front of Duklini, the real guilty and evil killer. The king ordered his guards to let Kit free, and to let him go down on the ground. Then the soldiers substituted the a barbed wire for the golden rope.

Duklini was immediately arrested and conducted to the scaffold. He screamed like a pig when the soldiers tied up his hands and feet. This time nobody screamed “God be with you”. The sands of time for Duklini were running low. The trap door opened under his feet. The barbed wire tightened around his neck, harder and harder. Blood began to flow from his throat. The last sight of Duklini was a red sky getting darker and darker, until the light of his miserable life turned definitively off, sending him to the afterlife.

The king would no more sentence anyone to die without a very serious reason and engaged himself to learn to control his huge appetite, which could have caused the death of an innocent man. He also organized a big feast, and all the citizens of Torviscas were invited to celebrate his new decision. For that, he ordered his cooks to prepare his favorite dish, the roast in his special sauce Voronoff with a paella. Since then, Duclos was no more considered by his citizens as a descending mountain of fat, but as a good and fair king. Duclos adopted the poor child who could live at court with the royal family. Over the years, he followed the path of his new father; he was the future obese king. Kit and Rosemary had two children and lived happy until the end of their life. Duklini burned in hell eternally.

This story is a tribute to the great song Geordie from Fabrizio De André.

 

‘I am very lucky, because I work for two very nice and friendly departments’ – Interview with Eva Suarato Adams

Image: Eva Suarato Adams.

Author: Marie McMullin

If you don’t know who Eva Suarato Adams is, I wouldn’t blame you. And yet, you should, as she is behind almost every email you receive from the English department and is an invaluable help to all the staff members who get lost in the administrative maze of the UNIL. Here at MUSE, we decided it was time we got to know who was hiding behind secretariat-anglais@unil.ch, and Eva very kindly made time in her busy schedule to answer my questions.

I begin the interview with an essential, if banal, question, and ask her how long she has been in Lausanne and working for the university. I was actually born in Lausanne, she tells me, so I have been here for many years, for ever almost! But I left Lausanne in 2000, went to the Dominican Republic, and I spent more than ten years there. We came back, with my husband and the kids, in 2010, quite a long time ago now. I started working here in 2011.

Impressed and intrigued by the exotic destination she had chosen, I urge her to tell me more. Well, to be very honest with you, when I was here in Lausanne before leaving, I used to study medicine – which was a fail! She laughs, obviously well over the disappointment. I had a brilliant “échec définitif”, just like many other people, right? So, I actually went to the Dominican Republic just to, you know, learn Spanish. I was supposed to stay there six months, but then it turned out I stayed there for ten years! And I used to work in tourism there, for a receptive tour operator, so something completely different from what I do now. But it was very interesting.

As we have brought up the topic of work, my next question asks whether she has always worked for the secretariat of both the English and the Italian departments. My contract since the beginning was really to work for both departments, she informs me. I’m very lucky because my father is Italian, so when I was a kid we spoke Italian at home. Just like all the young people here, I learned English at school. She pulls a face, clearly not impressed with the level she used to have. But then, in the Dominican Republic, I used to work for a Canadian company, which means that I had to speak English every day – which definitely comes in handy now!

Eva has mentioned quite a few languages so far, and I wonder how many she speaks. Well, we speak Spanish at home, so with French that’s four. Oh, and German too! When I tell her how impressive that is, she modestly responds to the compliment with, Oh, I’ve lost a lot of vocabulary, so I can’t really say that I speak German anymore. We both end up laughingly agreeing that in Switzerland, we always let the Swiss Germans practise their French anyway!

I come back to her role as secretary and ask whether she notices any stark differences between the two departments she manages. First of all, I have to say I am very lucky because I work for two very nice and friendly departments. They’re quite different just because they don’t have the same size – at all. The English department is probably one of the biggest ones in the faculty, whereas the Italian department is way smaller.

‘How many students does the Italian department have?’, I ask. Mmm, she wonders. Right now, I couldn’t tell but much less than the English department. It makes a difference, you know? Also, I think one of the big differences is that some of the Italian teachers actually live in Italy. So they travel every week. I don’t get the chance to see them all the time. The teachers in the English department mainly live here. Even if they are not teaching, let’s say on Mondays, they’re still around, so I get a chance to see them.

We then turn to the more practical aspects of her job, and she tells me that one of her main tasks is to lend a helping hand to the teachers. I ask if she sees herself as the person behind the scene who fixes problems, or if that would be putting it too bluntly. I just try to help, to be honest. I don’t think that I have any magic tricks to fix everything, she adds while laughing. I’m just trying to do my best, and really help the teachers in their admin tasks, and make sure that what I can do, is done.

‘What is the strangest request you’ve ever had to deal with, either from a student or a member of staff?’, I wonder. Oh gosh, she laughs, that’s hard to say. We have pretty reasonable people working and studying here. Honestly, let me think about it. She ponders for a bit. Nothing comes to mind really… you know, it’s probably because when I used to work for that tour operator back in the Dominican Republic, there, she insists, I had so many weird requests from tourists that probably, now, something that would sound weird to you doesn’t sound weird to me at all. I naturally ask for an example. Well, I’ve had clients complaining about the water of the sea being too salty. That type of thing. They couldn’t understand that in the 21st century we still hadn’t found a way to ‘desalt’ the sea.

Moving on from the ridiculousness of some people, I ask Eva to pick three books she would want at her side if she ended up stranded on a desert island Oh, that’s a tough question. She takes the time to consider her possible choices. I’m thinking about the books that I’ve read recently…what was the last one…A book that I really liked was La vérité sur l’affaire Harry Québert, there is a show on TV going on about it right now. It’s one of those books that you can’t stop reading once you’ve started – a real page-turner. I also like Dan Brown as an author… Oh, yes, another book I’ve read quite recently was from [Leïla] Slimani, a Chanson douce, a book which won the Prix Goncourt I think, in 2017 probably. A quick internet search reveals that the novel did indeed win the Prix Goncourt, but in 2016. That was an excellent book. A little dark, but very good. Of course, I work for a literary department and I enjoy books by more “serious” authors, but I haven’t got as much time as I would like to read. So, when I really have the chance, let’s say when I’m on holiday, I just want to read something light, entertaining, that allows me to escape. As she says this, I can’t help but think about how long it has been since I’ve read a book without having to take notes at the same time. Needless to say, I wholeheartedly agree with her wish for a bit of escapism.

My next question is about authors, and she once more has to make a choice: if she could have dinner with any writer, dead or alive, who would it be? She immediately groans. That’s a tough question too! Mmm, either it would be a very, very old author, like Caesar. Seeing my surprise, she explains further: I used to study Latin, and the texts were very interesting. Plus, he is someone who had the chance to live and see many things. So that would be my pick if I had to go way back in time. And otherwise, well, many of them really, from Shakespeare to more contemporary authors like the three I mentioned before. Joël Dicker especially. He is a young author, and it would be interesting to know how he came to that career, what makes him tick as a writer.

When I had stepped into her office earlier, Eva had mentioned that she was currently quite busy. I ask her whether this is a particularly intense time of the academic year for her. Yes, it is, because we have to work on the budget, and then we are already working on the January exam session too. And it’s also that time of the year when we have a lot of pleasant and extremely nice events. We both start giggling at this point as from her tone it is obvious there is a big “but” coming. But sometimes there are too many things happening at the same time. It’s not only because of the job. I have two kids, and there’s the school party, and the kindergarten party… it never stops!

Promising that I have two more questions and that I would then leave her in peace, I ask her if she is someone who sticks to traditions at Christmas, or if she likes to try new things at this time of the year. This immediately makes her laugh. I definitely stick to traditions! I’ve spent so many years in the Caribbean having Christmas under the palm trees! Honestly, that was probably the only time of the year when I really missed being home. Christmas is a time when you want to be surrounded by your family, in a cold place, possibly with snow. And again, my father is Italian, so I come from a rather traditional family. Yes, I definitely stick to traditions at Christmas!

‘Last question’, I say, having thoroughly enjoyed myself and half wishing we could carry on talking. ‘Have you made any particular wishes or resolutions for the New Year? Or have you not had the time to think about them yet?’ Gosh, well, honestly… my biggest wish, and that may sound weird, is to just keep on being happy. If my family, my friends, and myself can keep on being healthy and happy, I think that’s quite good! And then all the rest will just be a bonus.

We conclude the interview on that joyful and uplifting note and, after thanking Eva for her time, I take my leave with a smile on my lips.

“Finding Happiness” by Eugénie Bouquet

“Finding Happiness”

After the Myth of Sisyphus

Pushing,
Restless to climb,
Doomed to absurdity,
To toil at an ungrateful task,
Before having to watch it all,
Her struggles and her pains
Reduced in an instant
To nothing.

Alone,
Down again she goes.
The men who pass by mock her,
Claiming she is being punished for her arrogance.
Bit off more than she can chew, serves her right!
Maybe… But then why would she go back
To her lifelong companion
Willingly?

And again,
Refusing to defect.
Or maybe striving to satisfy her spite
In the sharp unkindness of the stone, in its strain on her body?
When with an empty gaze, she follows its roll down the hill,
Does she like the racket it makes?
Relishing in the din perhaps as
In music?

Oh, by the Gods,
The greedy ache to comfort her!
To let her rest under my shadowy wings,
And stop the everlasting curse from destroying her.
But no, nothing shall be done. For on the fool’s face, I recognize it. Under the sun’s gash and the blast’s whipping, as she descends for the…
Howmanyeth time? There lies, unaltered
Yet flickering,
A smile.

App Review: Forest – “Stay Focused, Be Present”

Image: Forest © Julien Chalendard. Source – CC Licence

Author: Andrea Grütter

App Review: Forest – “Stay Focused, By Present

Forest is a mobile phone app and Google Chrome extension that you can download for free on Chrome and on Android, and that costs to download on iOS. The premise of the app is fairly straightforward: “Stay focused, be present.”

How does it work? You build a (virtual) tree!

How do you grow a tree? By not using your phone!

The idea is that you decide how long you’d like to stay focused and not use your phone. Depending on the amount of time you select, your tree will be small or large. You press on “plant”, and from that moment on, your tree starts growing! In case you open your phone, the tree will encourage you to get back to work, for example by saying “Stop phubbing!”. If you switch apps, your tree will die. If you don’t want to kill your tree, you need to remain focused/not use your phone until the time is up! Some apps can be whitelisted, a feature you can customize to your liking.

Images: © Forest

With every tree grown you receive a certain amount of coins. Once you’ve collected enough coins, you can spend them either by buying new types of trees or bushes, or, if you’re premium, you can spend them in-game on the “Real Forest” app, after which Forest donates to Trees for the Future, a tree-planting organization.

My favorite part about the app is that it gives me statistics about how many trees I’ve grown, at what times, etc. It lets you create adorable little forests (pictured below) that give you daily, weekly, monthly and yearly views of your work. It also gives you a timeline (pictured above), in case you’d like more details. You can definitely use this app to track your working habits and, if used over a long period of time, at what times of day you tend to work more/better.

You can also sync it with friends so you can build a forest together!


Images: © Forest

I have not been using this app as often as I could. But, it has definitely come in handy on those days where I seem to always be reaching for my phone. It has become especially useful for me when I combine it with the Pomodoro technique, which I have been using for years! I highly recommend checking it out. The combination Forest-Pomodoro has personally helped me stay productive and motivated to work during the day (“a little 25-minute tree won’t hurt!”). One unfortunate thing is that I work ideally with a Pomodoro of 23 minutes, but the Forest app only allows multiples of 5 minutes. My solution has been setting for 25 minutes and starting my break even if I finish 2 minutes before the tree has grown.

One of my only complaints about the app is that I have it set so that my phone vibrates when the tree is grown, except that it never vibrates (or I just don’t notice). I could set a ringtone, but it’s not great for libraries and other study spaces. I haven’t found a solution to that yet :(

If you think that using an app to curb your phone usage is sad and that it’s pathetic to reach that point… That’s fair. Good luck to you!

If you think that this is something that could benefit you… I say go ahead!

If you’re on the fence and are an Android user or if you’re ready to get the Google Chrome extension, it’s a free download so you might as well try it out. Maybe it works for you, maybe it doesn’t!

If you like the idea and have issues keeping regular sleeping habits, you can check out their other app SleepTown where you set sleeping goals and build houses!

In any case, good luck with your assignments and happy tree-growing!

Poems by Marie McMullin

Golden October Autumn Idyll
‘Golden October Autumn Idyll’ © ASSY. SourceCC License

OLD FRIEND

Old friend, I think of you still sometimes.

A ceaseless hiss in the back of my mind

Tempts me into dwelling on things long past.

 

Come, just this once

Take my hand

And follow me down

Memory lane,

My very own fairy tale.

 

Here is where we met

On opposite sides of a river

With no bridge in sight.

 

Each day we came

And sat under the rustling trees

Feet playing in the waves.

 

Sunlight skittered upon the water

Twining with our laughter

And starting a fire.

 

Here is the meander

Where one day I jumped

When the distance became too much.

 

Eyes closed, I see

Your hand holding mine

Pulling me out.

 

Eyes open, I gasp on the dank bank

Where the current spat me

At your behest:

Me here, you there.

 

A buzzing in my ears says you are near

Standing on the other side of the river.

Old friend, I think of you still sometimes.

 

 

Althingi Broken Glass
‘Althingi Broken Glass’ © Unknown. SourceCC License

SILENT WITNESSES

The door slams and resonates

with the last notes of a dance

more violent than a waltz.

A boiled-over pot on the stove

and acrid sinuous smoke

stinging the eyes and throat.

Chopped vegetables scattered

like cadavers on the counter

copy bloody battlefields.

The toy castle, built brick by brick,

Is no longer a home but a house of cards

Flattened by words, those vicious, vindictive winds.

A teddy bear, cast away by an angry hand,

lies face down on the ground,

head tucked into the corner to drown out the shouts.

To its left, a smashed up plate,

Its pieces remnants of one

painful, piercing shriek.

Frankenstein’s Promise

Image: Kentucky Storm © shockits on Flickr

Author: Arthur Margot

It was on a sombre night that my objective was reached; the sky was replete with clouds and the coldest and harshest of winds beat away at the windows. Again, I had found myself exiled in my study, working away as the night’s hours waned on. Oh, the nights had quickly become too numerous to count, and I felt as though my constant need for candles was arousing suspicion in the minds of the village folk. Just like old friends, the slow fever I had once contracted and the anxiety which gripped at my every fibre had returned. Yet, this time around, the excitement which had previously kept me alive felt all but drained from me. My efforts were no longer driven by passion and thirst for truth and discovery; but intense dread and paralysing fear.

So long had I toiled in this abhorrent endeavour that doubt beyond any I had ever felt corroded my every thought. Was one of these monsters not enough to curse the world of the living and plague my life thus? Yet how was I to refuse the damned wretch after so vile a threat, after such manic insistence to have a companion of its own? No, truly, there was no other way than to bend to its will, not after such maintained mistreatment of my person and its warning that it would continue forevermore.

This night, much like every other night I had been working on this unspeakable task, I felt observed. I would inch my way to the small window systematically, hoping in vain to find a great, blackened figure, standing in the night somewhere on the grounds and looking up at my study. Each time, I was disproven, as no trace of the wretch could be found in the black of night. My investigations at the window helped me not, and my mind was ever the more haunted with the uneasiness of being watched.

Adjusting the candles which adorned the worktable, I stared down at my instruments of life. Once before they had performed the impossible, once before they had consoled my tortured mind in proving how my scientific intuition was beyond measure. Now they were to be set to work again and doom my soul further than it had been already. Oh! how I dreaded for this assembling of limbs to shudder to life as the wretches had on that most fateful night! This horror gripped at my stomach, and the pain upon my psyche was such that I feared I might collapse at any moment.

I paused and observed with utmost contempt the fruits of my labour which lay before me. The yellowish tone of the new creature’s skin which had merited my admiration on its antecedent counterpart now inspired in me a great sickness, and the lustrous black hair which I had once been so mesmerised in arranging now draped itself as a tide of horrid locks over the worktable. All too much was I reminded of my initial creation, and at once I turned away, fearing it would stare back at me as the other creature had on that dreary November night. The deed was not yet done, however, and many adjustments needed to be made before it could be startled to life. The weariness of a hundred nights tugged away at my eyelids, and I had great trouble arranging my tools correctly. After struggling and hesitation, both external and internal, as I had seldom felt, I finally sparked life into this second creation. How might I describe the horror which filled my heart as its eyes opened in the same way the first’s had, or how its limbs convulsed, mirroring that of the original’s?

This overwhelmed me to the point that my legs gave way and I toppled over onto the cold, hard ground. When I came to, I took no time to glance over at the worktable, and hurriedly fled through the study’s only exit. I retreated into my quarters, and disappointed by how little solace my bed would offer me, I tended to what little sanity remained in my body. Over time, the wind hushed somewhat, and the sounds of the night could be heard more and more distinctly. Suddenly, I heard a thundering crack of iron and a monstrous creak. The castle’s great doors were being opened and the reverberations were due to their being closed for so long. At once I knew that this unwarranted entry could be nothing but the wretch; somehow it had found out that tonight was the one on which I would uphold my promise. I sat in the dark, as the doors scraped shut and smaller ones opened and closed throughout the castle. It was making its way up to the study. Knowing its ability to find me in the most barren of places, I refused to hide in my chamber any longer and decided to step down to meet it. However, when I arrived at the study, I found that the door had been closed and sound was coming from within.

From behind the bolted door, I could hear muffled groaning, followed by the distinct voice I had come to dread from our numerous encounters, although I could not discern what was being said. It seemed as though they were communicating, almost having a discussion. This went on for some time and were it not for my fascination with the creatures I might have dozed off, leaning on the door frame. After many unintelligible exchanges, they abruptly stopped and began shuffling towards the door. With a bolt of shock, I started up to my feet and darted towards the top of the spiral staircase and away from the door. As I settled, peering around just enough to perceive the study’s entrance and extinguishing my candle’s flame, the doorknob turned, creaked slightly, and gave way.

They exited the study together and made their way down the staircase without a sound. Overcome by curiosity yet wishing that, for once, my cowardice might have the better of me, I followed with as little noise and as much care as I could muster. Winding their way down the stairs and through the many rooms and antechambers, they finally arrived in the courtyard. The once omnipresent clouds had now parted to allow the moon to bathe the scene in a pale but sharp light. I surreptitiously shifted into the shadows of the courtyard’s side alley and hid behind a column, watching intently as they came to a standstill in its centre.

I could now hear the words the creature spoke to its companion; however, they were unlike any language I had heard before, and I could not say quite what they were now. I watched with fascination as they stared into each other’s eyes and listened to the wretch’s incomprehensible monologue. The scene unfolding before me felt frozen in time, as neither hinted to any movement at all, yet somehow, they inched closer to one another constantly. Finally, seeming so close to each other’s face that they might merge into one, their blackened lips met, and their arms locked together in a passionate embrace. I could only watch on, fascinated by the scene unfolding before me. However natural it may have been on the whole, I felt a great uneasiness at it, and the doubt which had become so familiar to me these last months erupted back into my consciousness. Again, thoughts of an irreparable mistake overpowered me, and weakened by all those nights of endless toil, I felt myself swooning again.

 

I awoke to see both creatures slowly departing through the castle gates. He had his arm around her side, while she rested her head on his shoulder. I watched, my mouth agape, as without a sound, they stepped out of the moonlight, through the great entrance, and into the world beyond.