2020 - Spring

The Marsh House

Image: Mist 194/366 by Blue Square Thing on Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Author: Laure Cepl

The Marsh House



Nineteen-thirty, the year she felt the breeze

Caressing her pale porcelain face. Blushing

In the dimming daylight of New Year’s freeze,

Her cheeks are covered by a wrinkled skin.


Time streaked it like thunderbolts, frail, outstretched.

Samhain’s sun sets over her glazed eyes.

With a crescent of violets, they’re decked.

Weary eyelids quiver to the twilight skies.


The forgotten Dame of the Marshlands,

Who was left to sink into oblivion.

She gives me a smile as I shake her hand,

And squeaks a “Bienvenue à la maison”.





The burgundy tapestries feel so warm,

The old wood scent tickles my nostrils, while

I sit on the dusty chesterfield. White

Laced threads above my head – spectral textile.


My host asks the grand maestro, Petrof –

Dear old friend of mine, forgotten but missed,

To sing me tales of men who fell in love

With the Moon. Nostalgia, who my soul kissed.


I find myself dancing in her embrace,

While she lulls me to sleep in her nightgown.

“Remember…Remember, I was the face

Who rocked you when no one was around.”


Black widows in the shadows join the waltz,

They swing on the chandeliers as we dance

Languidly to the sound of the The Kiss Waltz

Drunk with Shalimar, exotic fragrance.


Hair on her shoulders, like flames flickering,

Red velvet petals brush my neck saying

Bewitching words, casting spells, whispering

“Bring your lips close to mine while we’re swaying”


A silky curtain softly veils my eyes.

Hypnotized, my senses forget slowly

As the music fades and the fire dies

The chimney’s shadow rising behind me.





But once the night falls, the marble, icy

Chills my feet and turns them into grey stones.

In the growing darkness, I start to see

Unfamiliar figures, all skin and bones.


Oh horror! Oh, their ghastly glance, tarnished!

Rags hanging on their limbs, wearing grim grins,

Silent creatures, staring at me, famished,

while I shiver against the cold dead skin!


Out of their frames, the ghostly shadows crawl

Across the halls, echo bellows of woe,

Opened jaws, scratched walls, watch them scrawl.

Cold tears of sorrow roll down the windows.


Seven ghoulish foes dancing around me

Putting curses and stamping on the ground

Macabre ritual! They torment me!

“Come with us”, they say, “to the Underground!”


I break the circle and fall on the floor

“Let me out! Let me out!”  I implore

She moans and groans as she shuts the door –

“Stay in my company, forevermore!”


Hear her mourn! Lonesome soul, she grew cold!

Vanished, they have all spirited away.

Plagued by dreadful grief like a dark foul mould,

The Dame of the Marshlands dwells in decay!


Daughter, Sister, Mother and Grandmother.

She is haunted by the absence of some

Who once loved her enough to call her



2020 - Spring

Swan Boy

Once upon a time, in a far-off country, lived a boy whom all called “Little Goose”. He went by no other name. What name his father might have given him was better forgotten. All the drunkard had left were a few dirty smokes and trails of boozy urine in a corner of the barn. What name his mother might have given him when tucking his blanket, none could say. Perhaps she had not even named the little form before leaving it wrapped up on the steps. What mother would want to name that which is to be abandoned? The villagers had opted for neither naming nor flouting. He was “little goose” and that was that.

The children would giggle and hoot as he passed by: “here comes Little Goose! What bird have you caught today? Oh, let’s chase the bird. Come on!” Down they would swoop, tearing at the ground with their claws, their bony limbs knocking the boy on the head, the shoulders, the knees. Sometimes they would thrust water on him, the dirty water from the barrel at back of their house. Once he had tried to fight back, but they were more numerous, taller and stronger. He ran and ran until he found Old Mam’s front door open. She had stood there, a large wooden spoon on the hip, her apron as imposing as armour. Oh, she was a woman all right, Old Mam! – White mane trailing down her back, bushy brows covering the storm beneath. Her glare fustigated the assailants: “well well, who comes here?” A scruffy-hefty-croaky voice she had Old Mam. It was unusually low and one had to strain to distinguish all words. But it was mighty. The children left Little Goose alone that day.

But Old Mam expired in the spring. Wildflowers have grown her a garden, an unkempt vivid thing blooming in a discarded patch of earth, forgotten. Her voice is reduced to a whisper, a variation of the breeze. The little boy does not run away from the children anymore; there is nowhere to go. He sleeps in Old Joe’s barn in summer, looking over the animals. In winter, his little head rests beside the tavern’s hearth while men laugh and cry their lives out, flushing its disagreements in strong-smelling ale.

There is no one to care for him. Some would have, of course, had Little Goose not been so strange. “Oh, I would have brought him up, as one of my children I would have, yes ma’am! But when I hear he spends his days out there, you know – there. I’m no superstitious one, but when a little boy prefers spending his days doing, well, doing you-know-what, then I better leave him alone. He can have a piece of bread but I don’t want to find him no more in my house. No ma’am.”

And so they talk, listing you-know-whats that will not be named. They seem to understand each other quite well as others nod and hum in pensive accord. The boy is strange. No one, of course, is superstitious in the village. But one cannot be too sure either…

So the boy is alone still.

Down to the river he goes. He does not stop beside the colourful sheets hanged out to dry waving like butterflies in the wind, will not listen to the chatter of women as they wash their troubles with sweet-smelling soap. He does not stop beside the rocky rings framing pools of turquoise in which children laugh and lovers lie beneath the sky. Neither does wish to see what men are up to at the mill, blades cutting the water’s course. No, he prefers to be alone. Little Goose takes the little path that winds through the woods, twisting, turning and forking until winding beside the bend. At the end of the path, two trees mark an entrance. These old, majestic beings extend their arms and cover the sky. They seem to have reigned over the forest since ages long gone and forgotten. At their feet is a slate of cracked stone … But the little boy cannot read.

The place is different, apart from all others. It is his own.

And what beauty lies in the forest hall! Birds swoop down, wide wings the shape of an angel’s. They soar in the air, rise and fall, swoop and turn, all in silent symphony. As they fly in the morning, water showers from their wings, feathers relinquishing delicate drops of dew. So the grass will sparkle in the rising dawn, the green shattering into a myriad of golden lights. Mists float about, catching the flames in their silken veils to form a canvas of the air. And through the brilliant tapestries, the birds will fly, black against the gold, blacker than ebony. Black as death they circle the hall, endlessly.


The boy would watch, open-eyed, golden specks swimming in the white and greens of his eyes. Every morning, he would go up to the forest and watch as the swans swooped beneath arched vaults, as ethereal light filtered through branched tracery. When the birds departed through endless corridors, Little Goose would not follow them. Arms extended, feet hovering for instants above the ground, he would saunter down the little path, across the wobbly wooden bridge and back to the village, crying the birds’ songs as he went.

“Here comes Little Goose. What an odd boy”, they would say. And an old man would mutter words in his beard. It was a strange sight indeed to see the black strands of hair bob up and down the path and to hear his cries. Children would run away. “Mommy, it sounds like geese dying! I’m scared, Mommy”. And indeed, the cries that he thought so wonderful scraped the surface of the air and shattered the order of things. Death seemed to enter the fragile mirror of life.

But Little Goose did not notice these things. He would cross the fields. He would not pick any flowers, as others did. He would not contemplate the doves either. He had no interest in such birds. Once, Lily had said they looked like petals of snow scattered about. Little Goose had never seen snow, but it seemed to him that snow came in flakes. He mentioned that. He also mentioned that the doves were ugly. That he knew a place where the birds were graceful and strong. A place where birds were black. Lily had left and cried. He had simply shrugged. The doves to him were not birds, not really.

Then, having crossed the fields, down to the river’s edge he would run again, to a little spot behind the lovers’ pools. There, the stones were wide and smooth, the water crystal-clear. Alone, beside the river, none could bother him. “I am on the surface of the moon”, he would whisper, “I am bringing the most beautiful birds to the surface of the moon”. And he would set to work.

The strongest and smoothest of discarded branches he would select, the softest of reeds too. And with the feathers he would make brushes. This took quite a time. The boys would have mocked the way his tongue stuck out. But they were not here. And in the smooth landscape he would shape a world. The brush would dip in the little pool, creating a myriad of rings. As he walked across the surface of the stones, trails of pearls would shimmer and life, beneath the discarded birds’ feathers, would emerge. Swooping forms, ephemeral strokes of water, would emerge on the smooth surfaces. To the boy, it did not seem that he was creating them, only that he called their presence to him. Then he would sit on the stones and talk to them, these birds of water. They would tell each other the most wonderful stories. Then, before the moon came out, Little Goose would make his way back to the tavern, always. Looming stacks of dirty dishes would await. But his dreams helped wash the grime away. He would eat the bread left out for him. Always stale. Then he would tuck himself beside the ashes of the chimney place, the jibes too far away to harm.

“Looks like he’ll turn into one of these birds”

“You think so?”

“Gosh, I know so. Look at him!

“All these feathers of ash”

“How he cries when he comes down”

“You think he has seen them?”

“Oh, well, perhaps from far –“

“No no, he definitely has”

“Oh, he will bring something dark to this village. Just you wait and see!”

And they would shudder. And they would cry out for more ale as one needed comfort in such company. All wondered why the boy was allowed to stay. Perhaps because the keeper’s wife did not have any children. Perhaps because the dishes needed washing. Anyway, nobody asked. He stayed.


And, suddenly, just as they had predicted, trouble came. It took the form of winter, a dark, shadowy winter where mist blurs the boundaries between nightmare and reality. It did not snow. But frost settled in. The grasses shivered and died in it, the waters froze. Doors shut one by one. Geese squawked and cried until all were slain for meat. A few dogs whimpered and howled but even they ceased after a while. All was quiet. All was dead.

Only Little Goose stepped past the door. He took a worn blanket that he tied all around, and sauntered out. Eyes watched the colourful shape bob down the hill to the river, cross its frozen surface and disappear into the woods.

“That boy! He’s up to no good.”

Into the woods he went, but his strides gradually became shorter, slower. It was not due to lack of food, although the latter had been increasingly scarce. It was to do with the stillness of the place, a stillness that did not bear peace but an ominous, dangerous secret that could not be uttered. There was no breeze. The trees loomed, stone pillars rather than wooden flesh. At last he arrived at the two ancient trees guarding the entry to his secret place.


A while later, the same peering eyes watched a lost little form tread back from the river, up the path, and open the door of the tavern. The eyes left their windows, and mouths opened. Noise broke out behind closed doors, their energy only feeding the frost. He was met by a slap on one cheek and slurs on the other. He simply blinked as anger toppled over his little form. He seemed to see them for the first time, these people, these neighbours he had never really met.

“Where have you been, you little prick?”

“Don’t you know there are evil spirits out there?”

“Don’t you open that door again until I say so!”


They took him up to the attic. They locked the trapdoor and took away the ladder.

Then they forgot about him.


Later, when the frost had left and flowers bloomed, they would remember that a little boy had been locked up there. They would take some food upstairs.

“He isn’t there!”

“My spirits! No, he isn’t”

“What do you mean he isn’t there?”

“Well, look for yourself! What do you see? Not a boy for what I know.”

“Oh gee, you are right. He isn’t there!”

They went on for a while in this manner until someone observed that a boy could not disappear. They searched every corner. They noticed that the window was tightly shut. They saw that he could not have escaped. They did not understand.

A young girl came up. Her name was Lily. She plucked a few feathers from the ground. They were long and white, graceful. She had never touched something so soft. They smelled of warm earth and cinnamon, of life. She closed her eyes and basked in the smell. As she opened them, they rested upon an image. It was a bird. The most beautiful of birds. As she bent closer, leaning towards the ground, her breath blew the ashes away. They scattered in the dawning light, shimmered for a brief instant, and were lost.

“Goodbye Little Goose”, she whispered.

She kept the feathers.


Years later, as she would tell the story, she would always end it this way: “We called him Little Goose. We were wrong, you see. It was not truly his name. He was a bird, a beautiful bird – Swan Boy. You might still see him up there, above the branches of a tree, soaring beneath the moon. He might listen if you call. He might even like to hear this story; if you tell it right.”


2020 - Spring

Prose texts by Lara Lambelet

Images: © Lara Lambelet.

Author: Lara Lambelet


I see a meadow full of light. We wander here and there, hand in hand, tracing the course of our lives. Your smile pierces me. This apparent joy, covering your face with two small dimples, inspires me deeply. The moment was long overdue, but you are here now. I won’t let you go. My fingers close even tighter against your palm. I feel your pulse racing as my lips draw closer to your mouth. Your breath caresses my face. Our eyes are one; immersed in each other, I lose myself in the infinity of your soul. My tongue runs greedily through your lower lip, then my teeth take over and bite it. You abandon yourself to me, in full confidence, with equal power and filled with love. Then we lie down among budding daisies. An aroma that is no stranger to me gets me drunk.  I let myself be rocked in your arms and close my eyes. Your skin is warm, as I remember. It emanates a familiar and reassuring smell. I huddle up against your chest. My hair tickles the tip of your nose. My head rises and falls as you breathe. It’s peaceful. Our hands haven’t separated. No one knows where the key is to the invisible handcuffs of desire, love and respect that unite us. I observe this complicity, this unique bond that, despite the pain, continues to grow between us. “I am here now. “, you whisper in my ear. I know that. I’ve always known it even though you didn’t believe in it anymore. My eyelids are opening to the light again. The return breaks my heart. But there’s a spark of hope in me. I know, this twilight reverie is only the beginning of our story.

Writing exercise with words

  • love
  • hope
  • bitch
  • water
  • pneumothorax
  • architecture

Even if you wished it, you can’t touch me. I am as subtle as the calm water of a river that pours into its vast ocean; trading, inconspicuously, tranquillity for power. Hope will blossom in you once you get to know me. My presence could take your breath away, like the terrible pain of a pneumothorax. Some of you may have the architecture to contain me so I’ll be able to flourish harmoniously. But one day, whatever your predisposition, you’ll come to the conclusion that I’m a real bitch. Who am I? My name is Love.

Paradigm shift

The frenetic rush, like a continuous wave ending its race against the rocks, which had formed in the local supermarket, reflected the magnitude of the situation.

The population threw themselves on the disinfectant gel

CHF 400 per liter: the story of the merchant who made his fortune on the back of the panic that ensued.

The “man-made virus” or how some people always find a way to build conspiracy upon conspiracy…

Huang Yang: the Chinese restaurant that forbids the entry to Chinese people

I was tired of those headlines. Grotesque. Gargantuan. Such euphoria projected onto a world, which, as we all remember, once knew pandemics of greater scope and severity. I fold up the newspaper, put it on the seat next to me. An old lady, wearing heavy make-up, looks at me intensely. “Do you want my picture?” I think, stunned by this rudeness. To my left, a handful of women and men of all ages had donned the newest fashion accessory. In bluish tones, sometimes white and even green, for the most highly rated people, the mask had its charm. I didn’t wear one. In this pre-apocalyptic atmosphere, I felt a sense of disobedience, a deliberate and assertive non-conformism. The face of the crowd, as usual, was pale. “Virus or not, it’s crazy how demoralizing people are,” I thought. Lausanne station. I gather my things and get tired of getting off the train, crowded with students, workers, and other passengers in a hurry for whatever destiny. Lost in my morning ruminations (to tell the truth, I am no better than these people whom I despise, as far as I can see), I finally arrive in front of my building. It is, more or less, deserted. I push the door of the sanitary facilities and begin my daily ritual: washing my hands with soap, after applying and soaping for thirty seconds, drying and using my personal gel. It’s a small thing, but I’m getting on with it. After all, I’ve always been a stickler for hygiene. Maniac. That’s when my phone rings to notify me of a new notification. I read: “Dear students, this week’s classes and seminars are cancelled. This cessation is of indefinite duration. In the meantime, we wish you a wonderful quarantine”.

Photograph of a window whose panes are covered in condensation, with houses and trees visible in the distance.
Quarantine’s Introspection

Quarantine’s introspection

All by myself. Don’t wanna be. All by myself. Anymore…

The needle transmitting the vibrations of the 33 rpm emits a gentle humming sound. I had taken my father’s record player out, then dusted off the shiny surface with a cloth. With its aquamarine colour, I take pleasure in contemplating the beauty of this object from another time. Under a subdued light, I imagine the shy arms of lovers waddling on a slow dance. The trembling hand of the young man struggles to grasp the hip of his dance partner. “Ah… what a beautiful time. “, I meditate. The mere sight of two people, body against body, gives me goose bumps. Two metres apart. One of the recommendations that keeps running through my head.  By the way, this word “recommendation”, can we talk about it? A small disillusioned smile appears on my face. A grin maybe. I don’t know if I have the desire or even the strength to express myself on this confinement. The needle ends its course along the vinyl. Silence dominates my thoughts. It’s crazy how time seems to widen day by day. The minutes are hours and the hours are flowing drop by drop. There’s a knock on the door. “Yes, what do you want? “I ask my roommate as politely as I can. James, whose stubbornness seems to me to be accentuated by the confinement, interrupts my sudden contemplation with the intention of suggesting a game of chess. “A game of chess? No, but would he have taken a single second to get to know me? “. I answer no with my head and look away. The sound of footsteps leaving the room relieves me. I get up and walk towards the window. The sun is already hanging high in the sky. It must certainly be noon. But then, I have no idea. Since the first day, my watch has been resting in the drawer of my bedside table. In fact, since this new paradigm, I’m gradually listening to my body even more. My stomach is gurgling. Noon. Yes, it is. He’s right. “Oh, you can wait a little longer,” I ask him calmly. To paint. I hurry in giant steps towards the glass closet in the living room. Facing it, my reflection blinds me. My hair is a mess. I suddenly grab the handle, take the first tubes and brushes and close the door. A yo-yo, going up and down indefinitely. That’s how I would describe my moods. “What did I want to do again? “. I stare at the canvas. A memory crosses my mind and floods the thick paper with pigmentation. Pistachio, emerald and persimmon: the shades unite and oppose each other. With the tip of the brush, I trace a scarlet massif. Before my eyes, a bucolic landscape tells its story. As my painting is about to come to life, my sense of smell is seized by a delicate perfume. The perfect blend of ginger and lemongrass. The smoke from the cup of tea, sneakily deposited by my roommate, mists my glasses. I am as if magnetized by the enchanting scent. My lips test the temperature of the water. “I wonder what he’s doing. Certainly, paperwork or settling a thousand and one management problems with panache.” I smile and see his gaze plunged into mine. His lips touching mine. His last words resonate with me: don’t forget me.

2020 - Spring

Poems by Lara Lambelet

Images: © Lara Lambelet.

Author: Lara Lambelet

Poems and short notes

Your bombastic way of showing off love made me giggle. I could not properly gage thy truth and had to shed my salty prejudices.

Wrapped in ivy, the intricacy of your heart pinched my lips.

I knew he loved me the moment he started looking at me so intensely with a soft smile and a deep silence that meant everything.

On the verge of joyfully exploding in a rain of sensations, let us live our absconding love.

Let me taste your lips as if they were my ultimate and everlasting meal.

We are endless books whose blank pages to blacken are added day after day in the libraries of our lives.

I gasped deeply, consumed by the sparkling feeling spreading inside me, as our sights met each other.

I cannot resent you for falling in love with me.
I wouldn’t blame myself for letting you steal my heart, either.

Photograph of sand dunes, with 2 silhouettes in the distance and the sea visible at the horizon.
To my darling

To my darling

I don’t know if your thoughts sometimes move slowly towards me, if your heart is in love with the same overflowing feeling as before, but I know that you will always be a person who has turned my life upside down and taught me what love is.

Should I?

Should one let oneself fall prey to love?
Isn’t it a genuinely perilous attempt?
I suspect I’m not alone in believing the answer is no.
An underrated emotion which has overwhelmed more than one.
“I love you”, these misused words which frightened the best of us, have been endlessly and secretly whispered.
From whom could I steal the credit for teaching me how to truly love?

2020 - Spring

Drops of Spinsterhood

Image: © CDL

Author: CDL


Drops of Spinsterhood



In our pond I float.

Sick of my condensed perfume,

time to leave this tepid room.


You boiled, remember,

dreamt about our infusion

until, encouraged

by my ‘whole leaf’ pretension,

I danced out of your pink water.


Again, why did I think

that the half-full cup you’d kept

was cold without tea?

I dived back in. While I slept,

you spat us into the sink.


On the table (cherry wood)

now crawl sodden leaves who would

rather dry than rot.





2020 - Spring

Seamus Heaney’s Poem ‘Höfn’ Translated by Céline Naito

Image © Céline Naito

Author: Céline Naito


Le glacier aux trois langues entame sa fonte.
Que ferons nous, disent-ils, quand la roche, en laite,
Viendra se lover à travers les plaines du delta

Et que les séracs insondables s’avanceront ?
Coincée, encastrée dans le roc, je l’ai vue de l’avion,
Peau de terre mort-vivante, grise et rompue, antique misère,

J’ai eu peur de sa froideur qui semblait encore suffire
Pour geler d’un bloc le hublot blanchi de respiration,
Figer le sol dans son implacable infiltration

Et chaque mot de bouche en bouche, alléchant, chaud et bon.


Höfn by Seamus Heaney

The three-tongued glacier has begun to melt.
What will we do, they ask, when boulder-milt
Comes wallowing across the delta flats

And the miles-deep shag-ice makes its move?

Seamus Heaney, District and Circle, Faber and Faber, 2006, p. 53.


Due to copyright laws, we cannot publish more than four lines of the original poem. The complete text can be found here.

2020 - Spring

Where am I?

Image: “Clown Portrait 1″ © Edgar Cook. SourceCC License.

Author: Leah Didisheim.

Where am I? It’s the same street. I used the same path. And here I am, walking along the trees of this street that I see every day. The street where I have all my memories. Where I learned how to walk. Where I had my first kiss. Along this street, where I live, where I’ve always lived and probably where I’ll finish my life. In this house, my home. Where I have learned what’s good and what’s bad. Where my family lived and where, one day, I’ll probably live with a family of my own.

And yet… And yet, I can’t recognise a single thing. I know it is this street. I am so sure that I would yell it to anybody who would not believe me, to anybody who would think I’m crazy. And yet… and yet I do not know which house is mine. Everything looks the same, but everything is so different. I stop where I always stop. I take my keys out of my pocket like I always do. I unlock the door. And I go home. In this house which I know is mine, and yet looks so not like me.

The painting I bought two years ago is still here, right in front of the door. I thought it was so welcoming for people who came to my place, to see a colourful portrait of a smiling fairy, which is supposed to say: “Please, make yourself at home”. My friends always complimented me on it. And yet, today I can barely look at it without being deeply afraid. Again, it’s the same painting, I know it. I bought it. And yet, it is so different. I take my shoes off. I put my black coat in my wardrobe. I do what I do every night when I get back from work. And yet, even what I do doesn’t seem right. There is a weird atmosphere, which seems to spread. I begin to feel sick.

That’s when I hear it. This laugh. This scary laugh that wakes you up sweaty in the middle of the night, after you’ve just had the type of nightmares where somebody kills you before you wake up. I feel dizzy. It feels like I just got inside the house of the devil. And then nothing. No more sound. I don’t move. I can’t move. Standing there like a stupid paranoiac woman, for what seems like hours, though it might have been a minute. Usually Time is a bad friend. You never know if he’s with or against you.

I decide to move. Gently. And I feel something moving behind me. Again, with this evil laugh. I turn quickly and I just get the time to see a shadow vanish. I don’t know why but it seems familiar. It reminds me of my 10th birthday. My mum had asked a clown to come to make his show in front of me and my friends. It was great. I laughed so much that day. The clown laughed too. It was the kind of clown who has a big red nose and a big red mouth: his face makes you happy. Today the laugh was probably the opposite of “making me happy”. I would rather cry than laugh. The shadow I saw made me think of a clown, but the kind of clown you see in horror films, not at a ten-year-old girl’s birthday. That’s why I remembered my birthday so many years ago.

That’s exactly it. My painting, my house, even my street turned itself into a horror scene where I was the victim: the person who can’t control their faith and is just left screaming; the only thing they can still control… So, I quickly elaborate a plan: I will play the crazy lady. I might scare the clown away. I go to my bedroom. I take some make up out of the bathroom. I generously put some black mascara everywhere on my face. I change clothes: I want some holes on a T-Shirt: something not clean. I can’t find anything like that. So, I use the first T-Shirt which came in my hands. I remember this T-Shirt. I had got it at a concert three years ago. I had gone there with my best friend to see our favourite group, Imagine Dragons. And as usual I had bought a souvenir. A souvenir that I am ruining with a pair of scissors and some red and black painting that I have on my desk. I dress myself. I look more depressed than scary. But I guess that will do.

I go back downstairs. I hear a sound in my living room. With my scissors, I walk silently to the door. It is dark. So, I don’t pay attention. And I fall on my shoes that I hadn’t moved. Fortunately for me, I don’t hurt myself. But it was very loud; let’s forget the element of surprise. It was probably too late for that anyway. One more step. This scary laugh again. It seems to be behind me. So, I turn quickly. Nothing. Just the sound. I can hear it everywhere around me. It turns again and again. Now, I’m scared for real.

I breathe. Funny how we intend to forget to breathe sometimes. I remember what my grandfather told me once: “Take your time to intimidate them.” So, I breathe. Very slowly. I close my eyes and I feel ready. I begin to walk again. One step. Two. The living room has never seemed so far away before. It feels like I’m walking for hours. The Time again. Playing with us. I finally reach the door. I open it. “HAPPY BIRTHDAY!” And there they were. All my friends waiting for me:

“Are you alright? It seems like you’ve just seen a ghost. And how are you dressed up? Is that why you took so much time?”

But was the laugh really theirs? I do not know…

2020 - Spring

Zooming in on Rachel Falconer

Image: ‘6794393944_79354c3990_b.jpg’ © MarjorieBaillie. Source: CC by-nc-nd 2.0 

© Rachel Falconer


Author: Katharina Schwarck



As we all don’t really remember anything about our normal lives, let’s start talking a little about that: where are you isolating right now?


Okay, well, I’m mentally floating between Lausanne and where I am. I don’t know if you know the Narnian Chronicles? In the fifth book, there’s a place called the “wood between the worlds” where the children go and every pond they jump into is a different world but the wood between the worlds is a very sleepy in-between kind of place and they don’t quite know where they are. So that’s where I mentally am. But physically I’m in a small village outside of Oxford, with a big garden full of apple trees and wild animals, deer and foxes and badgers and my family, my English family. My dad is elderly so he is “shielding” and I do the shopping. She laughs. We manage it that way. In short, in a village outside Oxford beside a river and a garden full of wild animals is where I am.


In this virtual reality, what do you fill your days with?


Mostly preparing for classes. I don’t know how you find your zoom classes but I find them quite tiring to prepare for and tiring to be in. I mean, it’s lovely to see people, so there’s a kind of magic connection, especially with the geographic space as well, for me. So that’s wonderful. But at the same time it’s like all your energy is soaked up. So, I haven’t done any research since the lock-down. She chuckles. I’ve just been outside in the garden, reading my course books or inside, planning away, reading secondary criticism, things like that. Yeah, those are my days.


So, the typical question everybody seems to be asking these days: have you picked up any old or new hobby?


I’m playing my cello a lot more! I’m playing a piece by Bloch called “Prayer” which is very, very melancholic. I probably shouldn’t play it. It’s like the combined anguish from past centuries. She laughs. So, I’m playing that and a lovely light piece called “Sicilienne”. The cello is completely physical and it’s a completely different language. There’s a lot of background stress. I keep up with the news obsessively. So, in the middle of this beautiful May tranquillity you’re very aware of tragedy all around, and playing the cello helps get into a different space. It’s just a way to escape that world situation. So, I’m doing quite a bit of that. I’m also making friends with the animals in the garden and the people in the village, you know, across the walls. So, those are my hobbies.


Okay, let’s try and think back a little to how we used to be, in “the other times”. First of all, tell me a bit about your background. Where are you from? Where have you studied? Where have you worked?


Rachel laughs at the prospect of a long answer to my long question.


I think I have a lot of background but I don’t know where to start! I was born in Oxford, I went to nursery school in Glasgow and then moved to Toronto. I had my childhood in Toronto, in the city. My dad worked at the university of Toronto, in the French department. I remember days off from school when the streets were covered in snow and tobogganing down the streets. So, I think of Toronto as a time when you have days off in the winter. I went to a little French school, it was quite small but it meant that we were learning everything in two languages. The city streets that we lived in were extremely multicultural. So, I guess I got a taste for that already in Toronto.

My grandparents, even though they’re English, moved there in the 1920s when Canada was going through its modernism. They were very much involved with a group of Canadian painters who went up North, painting the Inuit cultures and the landscapes, and my grandmother went as their canoe-carrier. She was with these seven now quite famous male painters, and she was the one carrying their canoe and taking them around. And my grandfather was a professor in Toronto – this is on my mother’s side. My grandmother was the first woman to be hired by Toronto University in English. In fact, one of the first people that she lectured to was the famous Canadian critic Northrop Frye, and he just sat in the front row and opened a newspaper and read the whole time in protest at being lectured to by a woman. She was experiencing that kind of attitude in the 1930s and she was so nervous that she was sick before every lecture she gave. But she had a lot of courage, so she kept going.

I’ve been thinking about my grandparents a lot lately. They were part of a magazine called “The Canadian Forum” that was talking politically about opening up Canada to modernism and inventing a new language of painting and poetry. My grandmother went to Europe, toured around, met the Bauhaus, and motorcycled over to Russia to find out about theatre there, Chekhov and so on. It was quite exciting. They knew DH Lawrence and Frieda Lawrence, and went down to visit them in New Mexico. It was a big modernist moment, happening a bit later than in Europe. So, growing up in Toronto I felt kind of connected to this history of leaving behind a Victorian period and becoming modern, especially the women. It gives me a lot of strength to think about them. So that was my childhood.


She laughs.


Then we moved to Chappaqua, a little village outside of New York where my mother had had her childhood, or at least somewhere near there, in the northeast of the US. It was a very idyllic little town that my sister and I thought was too small for us. But there was a wonderful school where you were free to do art and music and theatre. Then I went to Yale University to study Classics. Basically, I chose that because the English department was totally riven between old-fashioned studies and deconstruction, post-structuralism, it was kind of the centre for deconstruction with Derrida and De Man and people like that. I was just a naïve 18-year-old and I didn’t like fights, so I did Classics to escape all of that. Yale was quite stressful, full of very brilliant, very neurotic, driven, ambitious people, even in the Classics department. So, I went to Rome for a year and had a nice relaxed time there. After that I came back to Oxford to take up English – and to take up rowing! I spent a lot of time on the river or reading. I stayed there to do an extra degree, a DPhil on Milton and Virgil. So that was the end of my schooling.


She laughs again, thinking about her very elaborate answer.


Where did I work? My first jobs were teaching posts at London and Oxford just to pay the bills. Then I went to Prague for two years to teach at the Charles University. Prague was very different just after the Velvet Revolution. It was like being thrown into the heart of a historical change, then moving from the Soviet Bloc to the West. My students were fantastically interesting to teach because they had not only undergone this revolution but orchestrated it, they were really the movement of change. It was the first time I saw an intellectual become president: a poet, a dramatist became president of the country. My students had been involved in the revolution and it had all been remarkably peaceful. So to see that kind of optimism and to see the arts suddenly revived and made free and at the head of cultural life… it’s really the only time in my life I’ve experienced that possibility. That was very exciting.

After that, I had to get a real job. I ended up in Sheffield in the North of England where I taught for the first half of my career, very happily. I love Sheffield. It’s hilly like Lausanne and surrounded by green and it’s a kind of funky and student-oriented city. My niece is there now and absolutely loves it. Yeah! I taught there for seventeen years. And then I moved here! In 2010. So that’s the circle.


That is beautiful! Before I pick up on those elements again, you’ve mentioned to me that you also used to be part of a student magazine?


I was actually in one at school! I was on the editorial team in my high school, so younger than you are now. It was fun. We got to write for it. That was great. I think that was my main publishing phase of my writing. It was called “Sartori”, I wrote poems about rabbits and elves and dream worlds. A bit embarrassing, really, to look back on. Oh, and I also wrote for the “Patent Trader”. It was a local newspaper, I did the human-interest stories for them. I got to interview people about their travels in India or cats stuck up trees, people with rare diseases.  And when I worked in Prague, I also wrote for the English language newspaper there. That was a bit like working for a magazine in that I got to review all of these plays by playwrights who had been shut out of intellectual life until that year; they were beginning to open up little theatres like Theatre on the Balustrade, putting on Beckett and Shakespeare in their own, sort of, Czech way. So, I got to review those. My Czech was just good enough at that point to write that. That was a bit like a student magazine. But not like MUSE. MUSE is great. It’s an institution all of its own. I really admire it. I think you should definitely keep going. Yeah, keep going and keep interviews like this from staff short!, she says jokingly.


And right now, at UNIL, what are you specialised in and what made you get interested in that?


Well, what I’m not doing but what I will do when I get back to it is a book on Seamus Heaney and Virgil. So, it’s two poets, a contemporary and an ancient one and I suppose that unites my interest in contemporary literature and ancient literature. It keeps coming back to this story of the descent into the underworld, which I guess has a been a specialism of mine for the past ten years. I’ve written about descents into hell, descents into modern forms of hell and all modern forms of dream worlds. I think it’s been a long interest because it’s in a way one of the first forms of epic narrative! And I really like long stories, partly because they sustain you through your life and they have that sense of a life within them. I think they are some of the most ancient stories around. They’ve been with human culture really from the beginning. I think they enter different forms now; in films, epics are still really with us, whether in poetry or prose. And the story about going into the underworld, I guess, interests me because it has that fantasy element to it. It’s also sort of where you work out your own underworld or your own inner spirit. You find out your own roots. So, even if it’s within a largely secular context, I think we still have a sense of an underworld being a real place. Different people think about this in different ways.

Seamus Heaney’s underworlds involve the Classics and they also involve his own history in Ireland, which involves a kind of unconscious of culture. He really has a sense of a literary tradition which he’s tapping into as well as into himself. So, this book is a way to think about, maybe, that kind of journey into the underworld that the individual artist makes, but also how it hooks them into a sustaining tradition, and how we kind of bring that memory forward with us. So yeah! That’s what I should be working on.

And then in the background I have another project that has been ongoing since I got to Lausanne about birdsong and music and contemporary poetry. But it’s very difficult and I’m not really that much of an expert on birds or biology. But I love the aerial quality of poetry and the way, as we’ve been talking about in the Jamie course [this semester’s BA seminar on Ecopoetics and Kathleen Jamie], the way that poetry extends into non-human languages and non-human ways of thinking. I suppose it’s an extension of thinking about the epic, which is all about migrating into different worlds. I’m really fascinated by the edges of the human and talking to other creatures or listening to what they have to say. But I don’t really know how to write about that. So, that’s a project I have in the background. I do strange little articles about it and hopefully that will come together into some kind of shape after this Heaney book.


I’ve also heard that this year is your first year teaching ILA, now virtually of course. How has that experience been for you?


It’s great. I’ve really enjoyed it. It’s a bit more raw because this is most students’ first experience of university. They haven’t got sophisticated and cynical about the whole thing yet. My impression is of meeting people who are still learning this approach and when you drop a piece of work, a poem or a play into that learning pool of energy, it quickly becomes some new amazing plant that just has these thoughts from nowhere. I find that very exciting and I really miss seeing them face to face because that kind of connection with a work takes a human presence rather than a computer screen, I think. So, as they’re finding their roots I think it must be quite destabilising in their first year of university to be suddenly shunted into a virtual environment. I think it’s probably hardest for the first years, this transition. And they’re very bravely doing their best. Up until the lock-down, yeah, I just found enormous potential. People were just developing very, very quickly and growing into a university life. That’s really great to see. Yes, it’s a challenge but I really enjoy it.

I also think the student-teacher relationship is really special, and students might like to be reminded that their current teachers have been students too, and are still, in a way. We never stop learning. I’ve had wonderful English teachers from an early age, but if I had to single out three teachers who have changed my life, I would say they were Stanley Tucci – the father of the currently famous actor – who was my art teacher at school and who really trained my eye visually – a great, gifted artist. Then Lucy Newlyn, who taught me Romantic poetry at Oxford, Coleridge, especially. She is a poet herself now, who taught me to look for the ragged edges and the moments of fracture and failure from which we often derive our strengths. And Johanna Messner, my cello teacher, who has a wonderful, complex, aural imagination. It’s a joy to learn from her.


How awesome! What a beautiful conclusion. So, you’ve been in Lausanne for ten years!


Nearly, yeah! In August, it will be ten years.


So even though I know you’re not there right now, how have you liked Lausanne as a city over the years?


Well, I love it geographically. I love, obviously, the mountains and the lake and the way the city is laid out. So, the light and the mountains and the lake have made a big impression on me, like it does on every visitor. And then it’s very steeped in English literature. TS Eliot’s The Waste Land was written in Lausanne, or partly written there. So, in a way it’s coming home, but coming home in a displaced way. I love the real multilingualism, even more than in Canada. It is a place where polylinguistic facility just goes on all the time. So those are the things I love most about it.


But now I live in a village outside of Morges where it’s completely quiet. It’s a big attic space, a great place to go and work. I bought it because I can play the cello there without bothering anybody. But, you know, if you find yourself a bunker to live in, it’s still a bunker! So, I miss living in the heart of Lausanne, but it’s very expensive. I think I need to discover the soul of its funkiness. That will be my aim in the next five years, to discover the funky soul of Lausanne, which so far has eluded me. But it’s the most beautiful place I’ve ever lived. When I was interviewed for coming here, I had a terrible interview, I had this horrifying sense of witnessing paradise and that I had just blown my chances! But I got lucky and I got to live in paradise. Yeah, I’m grateful, unbelievably grateful to be here.


That’s beautiful! I’m so glad you enjoy Lausanne. And so, you have been in the English department for ten years as well! How does the UNIL English department differ from other institutions you’ve been in before?


Well, I think that’s what I love even more than Lausanne itself. I think our English department is like a family, really. I’ve worked in two or three other institutions, and I’ve never really experienced this sense of attachment elsewhere. I mean, it has the ups and downs of a family life, but there’s a very, very strong feeling of connection to your students and to your other members of staff, and a sense of obligation, which kind of is a burden as well. It’s a life attachment and I think we all feel, as far as I know, completely committed to the place and the department, as well as to our individual careers. I think it’s much more normal in a research English department to be devoted to your field and the colleagues in your field and to have an attachment to your authors and your libraries. All of which is true for us too! But what’s unique, in my experience anyway, is this sense of attachment to the department and every single person in it and their lives and their students. So, that’s what makes Lausanne special for me.

And concerning the students… it’s amazing how creative people are. I find it kind of unique to students and I think particularly the students in our department that I’ve been privileged to work with. There’s no limit to what people are willing to explore, taking English into music or into their arts or into theatre. Yes, I just feel like there’s this whole imaginative country that is available here to explore for the students who want to do that – I was very surprised to find that here. It wasn’t something I was necessarily looking for..

I guess, some of the things that stand out, to put flesh and bones on that, is how in one of my first years here I went to a production directed by Roelof Overmeer. He retired quite recently but he put on theatre productions all the time and they either tended to be very intense, with one or two people exploring his soul or Shakespeare’s soul or something. And then there were the other kinds of production which involved fifty people and it was completely carnivalesque and improvised and I really loved those, actually. There was one of The Tempest, which seemed to have every other member of the student body in it, at least thirty people on the stage at once. And it was in this makeshift theatre on the campus, not the Grange, but somewhere outside. It was really carnivalesque and wild. You couldn’t anticipate what was going to happen next but there were all of these brilliant cameo performances and that sense of theatre being a complete community experience, and Shakespeare at the heart of it. That was a great moment.

And then we had Kathleen Jamie here one year, very recently, and she read in the foyer of the Grange which is this beautiful building with columns and wooden rafters, and so it’s right for poetry. She’s quite a reserved, prickly character but during a question and answer, the students who’d been studying her just kept asking questions and the room just kind of warmed up and she warmed up. It was partly the space and the interest generated by the students and her very strong poetic voice that filled it. So, that was something that I think could’ve only happened there, or here, on our campus.

And I guess, what I like best, and this happens all the time so it’s difficult to think about a particular episode, is when a student starts saying something about a work you think you know well and it’s totally fresh. The top of your head just feels like it’s coming off because it opens up worlds for you that you thought were limited. That happens all the time. It happened in my Heaney seminar last semester almost every week. I also think you get a lot out of the MA memoirs, supervising them, because you get to see a student at the end of their studies pulling things together but discovering their own voice, discovering confidently how to become expert in a subject. So, this semester I have been supervising Laura Vogel, an MA student who developed her thesis from a course that was called “Animal and Child” and we looked at children’s literature and the representation of animals in it. She decided to do her memoir on this in Harry Potter and she’s become an expert on animal studies and animals in our culture and has gone way beyond what I know. It’s just wonderful to see somebody go far in their field and you get to know them working week by week and seeing them develop a mode of thought and a style that suits them. So I like that about our department too, you get this chance, really, to zero in on a particular student and help them further themselves.


Cool, now that we’ve talked about university and work, say we’re allowed to go anywhere we want and you’re independently wealthy and do not have to work. What would we find you doing with this time?


Wow, anywhere in the world? Well, I think I would have to go to the Galapagos, not to live there but to visit. I think I would go with my nieces, both of them who want to go and study the animals there. And having done that, I think one part of me would like to have a sculpture studio on the seaside. So, if I’m independently wealthy, I’ll do that. I’ll buy a little shack by the sea. Maybe close to Brighton so I could visit the city but I could be in my shack with my rock, sculpting.

That doesn’t really take much money so I think I would like to buy an island to have a sanctuary for all species, all waifs and strays in the world could come and live there, particularly retired working animals – donkeys and bears and animals that have had to be performing or working and have nowhere to go. So, I’d have this big island. It’d be full of creatures. I think people would be allowed in measure on the island as long as they liked all the other persons who are living there as well. And I would have to think in larger terms what I can do to contribute to changing our culture to something environmentally sustainable. I think that’s the big work that needs to be done by the people in the humanities as well as scientists, and that does mean working together. So, wherever I was I would try working with that community to find a sustainable way of existing. That means sharing your vegetables, water each other’s plants. Just a day to day interactivity that feeds the green world instead of destroying it. And I think that would take a while, so I would be busy doing that.


So, you mentioned Narnia earlier: if you could, what fictional place would you like to go to or visit?


Okay, so, I’ve been trying to get into Narnia since I was eight. I opened all the closets, I tried to open the tops of stairs with screw drivers, thinking it was behind there and left gaping holes in all the furniture in the house. And I thought I got there. I was quite a good liar, so I would come home from walks in the woods and tell my friends and my family that I had been to Narnia. They believed it, and I more than half believed it. So, in some ways I have been there already. But I would like now to go to Narnia but my own version of it. I don’t like the version that CS Lewis created anymore. Oh, that sounds sacrilegious because he created it, it’s his country but I would want to go to my version where it was not quite so anthropocentric.

So, I’d go to Narnia for the animals. I would go to the House of Elrond for the stories, I think. I love the idea of everybody gathering by the fire and playing their stories to music so I would go to the house of Elrond. And Lothlórien for the trees, obviously. So, it would have to be a mixture of the House of Elrond and Lothlórien in the Lord of the Rings, and Narnia. That would do. All made modern and ecocentric as well.


How lovely! Last question. I thought it was too boring and mainstream to ask you if you were a cat or a dog person so: what is your favourite type of bird?


Oh wow, that is very difficult. I can answer about the dogs and cats more easily. I like our ordinary garden birds because they’re with me daily and it would have to be between blackbirds and robins because I love bird song and the blackbirds are obviously the ones who sing… but robins interact with you. If you go out in my garden, here in Oxford, there’s a robin, six feet away, talking to you and looking at you. I think I’m an animal person rather than dog, cat or bird-. But I have to say I do love all dogs, whereas cats, I take on their individual merits. If they don’t kill birds. There’s a Siamese I’ve befriended because she’s rather awkward. She comes to visit, she looks lost, she looks confused, she’s not interested in birds, so I’ve started to give her cheese, I suppose I shouldn’t. But anyway, she comes to visit, she follows me around the house.

But it’s very difficult to say because the whole thing fascinates me, like I said, this interface with another creature who’s willing to learn your language and who also forces you to step out of your humanness a bit and to learn theirs. I just love that interaction, the shift in yourself that goes on and the shift in the creature that you’re interacting with. So, I suppose for the bird it would have to be a robin because I do get that sense of interspecies communication from them. I think it’s astonishing that they’re not afraid. They watch you and they listen. I even take my cello out and play Bach and they say, you know, “Shut up! Shut up! Shut up! I’m singing right here!” They don’t like it at all actually, they get quite disturbed. But yeah, there’s a great interaction. Garden robin. I’ll go for that.


Okay! Thank you so much. This was really lovely, it was really nice to talk to you and to get such lovely answers to all of these questions.


Thank you very much, I feel very honoured. It’s a pleasure to be interviewed.

2020 - Spring

“Some people never go crazy”


Some people never go crazy –

Me, I’m sitting on a lawn chair
Alone on the side of a hotel pool
Nothing to do but
Listen to the wind go by.

A snowflake falls on my nose
And an older couple comes running out
Maybe 70 years of age
Roaring with laughter –
They jump into the freezing water, fully clothed
Splash each other and
Race to the other side.

As they reach the ocean’s end,
He catches her
And it’s clear he has no intention of ever letting her

They haven’t seen me yet
And they probably never will
But I watch them.

Some people never go crazy.
What terrible lives they must lead.

2020 - Spring

Created Creator

Image: © Noupload Source

Author: Jonathan Collé

Created Creator

And he cast away his great pen, sat back on his chair, cross-armed and cross-thoughted, the cascade of ideas still pouring about his head in a myriad of lights.

            And the creator saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.

            “Hey! Who am I?”

            And the voice startled him. And he looked again at his work in shock.

            A little man, a picture, a mere representation of a shard in his mind was stretching, walking throughout the paper and the lines that were meant to be his world, contemplating, scrutinizing… He had no idea of the author’s presence, could feel only wind, not a breath, and the two great eyes that stared at him from beyond infinity meant nothing to him.

            The author’s first impulse was to touch this character that had suddenly come to life. He approached a huge, clumsy, trembling finger, and slowed as the distance between his reality and the impossible shortened, ever so slightly… a touch. Nothing. The paper did not rustle, and the lines did not stir. It was still this same frozen plane, this two-dimensional creation that meant nothing without his own consent. Yet there it was, this character who kept scrolling about, stumbling on a coma, falling face-first on a metaphor only to lash-out an angry fist at this unalive antagonist. But was this character not unalive? wondered the author, convincing himself that it was not. For when he caressed the paper and the letters, he could feel only this, paper and letters; not even. Bumpy paper. Is that enough to create existence?

            “What am I?”

The protagonist of the story – if it were ever a story – had screamed. Of that the author was sure. The protagonist had cried like a new-born, wailing at… him? It was a defining question that the stumbling, angry thing had asked, and the little being had poured it out, not caring to be alone, or unheard, not waiting for an answer. Or was it?

            The author trembled at the sudden thought, that his creation might see him. For the question was directed, if not to someone then to the world, and its creator. The protagonist had uttered its first sentences like a new-born answers his first welcome to life: anger, outrage and incomprehension.

            Overcoming his fears, the author leaned-in on his creation like a scientist looking to peer through a microscope. And the conclusions came quick. The “thing” -the author could not yet call it a man, nor was he sure he ever would- had asked not where he was, but what he was. “Who are you?”, asked the caterpillar to Alice. And the author felt himself tumbling down in a spiral- a rabid whole- for this unanswerable question opened only mysterious doors.

            “I don’t even know who you are”, wanted to answer the author, “leave me alone. Decide for yourself, see if I care.”

            But care he did. He wondered the very same thing now, as he peered at the moving impossibility which seemed to stand and look at him straight in the eye! Although of course it could not see; or rather, comprehend. “What did it see?”, wondered the author, not caring to poke his character anymore, content to watch it in a well-deserved awe.

            “I don’t know who or what you are”, whispered the author, still half afraid that his creation might hear him. But there was only fascination in his voice. The answer both entities sought was unreachable, it could only be chipped away – and then be frustratingly incomplete, wrong even. Who was it but a part of the author’s imagination?

            “But I definitely didn’t want you to do that”, thought the author as his protagonist kicked and raged at what had caused him to fall once more. “Nope, not at all”. The character was dancing, flashing middle-fingers all around, head up and a defiant scowl marked on its face.

            “Then, what was it? Was his imagination on rampage?” thought the author, concentrating, eyes-closed in an attempt to find out if the thing would simply disappear. He almost ripped the page, stopping himself just as soon as he had wished such folly. No, never. How could he kill what he had created? “Have I created it? Maybe then, I could kill it without a second thought, but this… situation…” The author kept staring at his creation, afraid even to blink now, that such magic may vanish as quickly as it had come. “But had it come quickly?”, the author wondered. He then went through his process of creation, only recognizing now the painstaking efforts that had wielded this result.

            “You are Jack”, warned the author, chipping away at this mountain of nonsense. “You are a killer. A cold-blooded killer. But you have a heart. Somewhat twisted, but sill a heart. You… have been created as the result of a problem.”

            Was that true? The words became lies as soon as they were uttered, for the thoughts they were meant to convey were too complex, too nuanced, they couldn’t just be flattened by arbitrary sounds. Utterances; utter nonsense. But the author focused once more: it was not non sense. It was simply different. New. Another kind of reality, unbeknownst to him until now, yet as real as his vision, as true and mind-bending as an optical illusion. And this reality was seriously undermining life’s illusion.

            The author saw Jack sit down. But was it still the character imagined, the friendly antagonist, soon-to-be-helper of the main character, possibly a secondary character with a high spin-off potential? It seemed stupid, vain to question such obvious knowledge, but what also stroke the author as unbreachable was the simple fact that Jack, if truth be told, had only been nothingness. A rhythm created by different readings of ink-traced tree parts. He was the wind, or rather the sound that wind and a poorly closed window could make. He was, indeed, the monster conjured in the mind of the child investigating said noise. Was the monster real? Where had reality stopped?

            Where does it begin?

2020 - Spring

A Short Story

Image: © Katharina Schwarck

Author: Katharina Schwarck

Trigger Warning: This text contains mentions of anxiety and stress

I had had a long day at work. My co-workers had made me stand at the self-check-out for six hours, which is not legal at all but I didn’t dare tell them. Therefore, as I took my hourly train back home, I could really feel the strain on my knees and feet. I was so tired. Trains stress me out. I am always worried about missing my stop or falling asleep or getting off at the wrong stop. Thinking about it, that would never actually happen to me because I am so careful about where I am. I always follow the stops on the screen and listen very attentively to the loud-speaker voice. I also look outside to make sure the computer isn’t making any mistakes. When it’s dark outside I follow myself on a GPS on my phone. So really, I couldn’t miss my stop. I still worry about it. But actually, the possibility of missing my stop isn’t even the worst part of taking the train; it’s the people. I am lucky, I usually go to work at times where the train is not too full. If it were, I don’t know what I’d do. I panic when there are too many people around me. I hate it. I cannot. I just feel so bad and I want to explode and leave and disappear. I also don’t like being in a place that so many people have touched? It’s like I can feel their germs and bacteria and spilled drinks and sticky candy and puke and urine. All these things lead me to taking the train at very non-busy times where I stand on the cleanest spot and don’t touch anything. Today, however, my feet were hurting so much that I really wanted to sit. I wish I was at home and could just sit down on something clean without anyone around. But I still had a 15-minute train ride to go. I was standing in front of four seats, one of which was taken by a sleeping, rather over-weight man and I was imagining being able to sit down on one of them. They repulsed me so much. I moved my weight from one foot to the other and felt a stinging pain in my right knee. I still could not bring myself to sit on those filthy seats. I cannot even think about what must have touched the floor before my shoes stepped on it. The train had left my train station and was slowly getting to the next stop. While driving up, I looked outside the dark window. Although it was late in the evening, the train station was packed. Tens and tens of people in hockey jerseys were waiting for the train that I was on. They were all going to get on my train and I knew that they were going to be loud. They were not only going to be loud, they were going to be standing around me and their bodies were going to touch mine. The train stopped and the doors opened and in a moment of panic I sped towards a free seat and sat down just before the crowd streamed into the train and filled every single bit with sweat, cries and laughter. I felt relieved. My jeans were touching the seat but the pressure on my knees was gone. I breathed in deeply. The sounds around me started to become just one mass of noise. I locked myself into my head. I reopened my eyes with panic as something touched my shoulder. The rather over-weight man I had sat next to had put his sleeping head on my shoulder??? Oh god. Oh god. I couldn’t move him. His head was so heavy and I couldn’t ask him to wake up and there were so many people around me who could watch me. Oh god. My heart was racing and I started to feel dizzy and my fingers were starting to tingle and oh my god. I had eight minutes to go. Eight minutes. Oh god he’d just started snoring. Seven minutes. Seven minutes until I could get up with a valid excuse of having to get off at my train station. Six minutes. Had it been two minutes already? I was impressed by myself for a split-second until the panic came back. Okay, focus, I told myself. Focus. So, I closed my eyes and focused on the warmth of his head. He didn’t even smell bad. Most people smell bad. I could even feel him breathe in deeply. There was a stranger’s head on my shoulder and I was starting to feel calmer. I focused even more. There was a blur of sound around me. There was just myself, in this situation. I opened my eyes again. The man had a big red suitcase in front of him. I looked more closely; the front bit of the suitcase had a pink unicorn sticker on it, which clashed horribly with the bright red of the suitcase. I also noticed that the handle of the suitcase was wrapped in numerous airline stickers from various places to various places. They all looked recent. Gazing more to the side, I saw that the man was holding a photograph between his hands. It was a picture of him with a smiling woman and two little girls. One of the girls was carrying a plush unicorn. All of them looked really happy. A wedding ring was shining from his hand. I noticed that the man was wearing a strange necklace. It seemed to be composed of different kinds of pasta, pulled on a string. There were a few poorly coloured paper flowers, too. I smiled. The man moved his head to the side. I didn’t move. All of a sudden I noticed the train stopping and rapidly turned my head outside to see what stop it was and sprinted out.


2020 - Spring

The Fair Lady of Ascalot


The Fair Lady of Ascalot

A Noble Death



“There is a great crying of the waves tonight.”

“Yes, the moon is red.”

“I hear the pounding of the sea afar.”

“I see that the snows are white.”

“Look, here come the flutes.”


“What’s that my dear? What do you say?” croaked the old woman.

The master looks pale tonight, like the foam of the sea or the tear of the moon. He looks out the window but does not see the two women. His eyes gaze in the distance, at a point they cannot see. A slight breeze curls strands of his hair. His sword rests on his side. Knighthood has its price.

The flutes are drawing nearer. One can hear their shrill scream, the pounding of the drums. The young maiden’s heart is still. Candles are lit and the procession moves forward. Not too quickly. Slow, slow and steady, now. One must have time to grieve.


The sky is dark. Not quite black, but dark. Red is the moon, loud is the sea and heavy is his heart. A knight’s heart…is it so still and cold that it may not be pierced? What of love?

The drums are drawing nearer, beating in the cold windy air.


The young woman gazes at Lancelot. She does not see nor hear the procession. What care has she of a funeral? It is not of one she knows or loves. She stares at Lancelot, his silver hair floating under the stars. He is high above, oblivious to her presence in the shadowed garden. But – ah, her mother will scold her again for leaving the milk to turn! Always the hurry. Always the scolding… life, what an unnecessary reality! She hurries back inside, not without picking a rose. Two drops of red drip into the pail.


“Where has he king gone? Oh, what is this horrible noise? Make it stop, make it stop!”

The queen turns and tosses in her bed. It will be a long night. The sheets are moist with sweat, the air too thick. She cannot breathe. Servants rush to and fro bringing water, fresh sheets and perfume. Blood is dripping on the white sheets. The ceiling is dark. A young boy comes in bringing a flower. It has not yet bloomed. It is not yet a bud. But it is green, full of life.

“My mother said this would help”. Slowly, delicately, he places it on the bed. His brow is fixed in concentration. The queen tosses again and the leaves fall on the ground. The bud is blue, dead.

“Where is Lancelot? Oh, what is this horrible smell?”

The young boy cries. Nobody pays attention.


The drums are beating louder. The smells of wine and incense waft closer. A strange scent of flowers comes through the window, aggressive. The boat is pulled by ropes tied to the horses’ saddles. They glitter beneath the moon.

Lancelot looks out and sighs.

“What have I done?”

The moon is red. The sea cries louder.


“I hear the pounding of the sea afar,” says a woman.


“Yes. She is quite dead, our young mistress.” The young men slap the horses, urging them to move faster, faster! The sea is calling the boat.


The queen opens her eyes. They rest upon the red cloths over the bed. Everything is so still, up there, in the meanders of crimson. She has stared at the embroidered petals countless times…yet, now, they do not remind her of flowers but of blood. Oh, there has been so much pain. Where is Lancelot?

Her husband the king is by her side. She can hear his voice murmuring pater nosters. She does not turn her head towards him. Suddenly, she mutters a moan. What is this weight upon her chest?

“Oh, Sir, the queen is awake.”

Oh, the curious creature that sits upon her chest. She stares at it, disconcerted. Is this the being she carried just a sunset ago? What a curious little thing, all curled up on itself and pink, so brightly pink, like a burgeon. Suddenly, it opens its eyes and reaches for the queen with its tight little fists. She smiles. She ignores the king, the attendants and servants. She smiles at this little being lying over her heart.

“My prince,” whispers she in his ear. Her child.


The sea is red, the sky is black, the moon silver. The waves moan, the skies cry but the moon is silent. Cold. It is a cold night. The man shivers, his sweat forming hard crystals on his back. His right arm moves forwards and back, forwards and back in repeating circles as the whip crashes against the horse. Faster, faster. They must hurry. The moon is mounting, the moon is ascending in the sky. Faster, faster. His lady is waiting.

His lady…white, a thin white face. White lips too. Her eyes are closed and one cannot tell they once were blue. A white dress she wears, and white roses in her hair. It too is white, dead as the moon above. The waves are calling.


“I hear the pounding of the sea.”

“It calls for her. She is pale.”

“Her heart is red. There is blood.”

“What folly was in her heart. To die for love

– Is it not strange?”

“Yes, it is strange. The sea is calling.”


Further away, beneath the horizon, figures are busy on the shore. Pinpricks of shadow on the distant sands, they are busy. Horses are being led away. A boat is in their midst, facing the sea, facing the moon. The flutes are getting louder. The men’s movements are precise, calculated. They beat to the rhythm of the sea. A wail is uttered, long, plaintive, doleful. A moan answers. It is the sorrow of the sea. The waves call.

Slowly, dolefully, they push the boat into the sea. A shaft of green, a flower of white – it is their lady they see floating in the sea. She is dead. The moon is coming down, down it slowly drifts, down it comes to meet its lady. The wind is picking up, upwards it moves. A dark cloud comes across the sky, slicing the waves, the silent sea. All is silent, all is dark.

A knight at his window stands still, his sword grasped tight, his eyes focused. Of his lady, the fair lady of Ascalot, he sees one last shining vision as moon and boat embrace. Theirs is the shape of a bud, silver and green. Swiftly, implacably, the clouds cover the sea. All is black and night has settled.

A sigh escapes Lancelot’s lips. What a pity he could not love her, the fair lady of Ascalot. What a pity. But the moon, silver; but the ship, green…they resembled, a bud, a flower – the promise of life. Perhaps, perhaps it was truly so. To lose one’s life out of love…Yes, he is sure of it. His lady lives, she is one with the moon and the stars, her song the eternal call of the waves, her hair the silken strands of the sea. She lives, the fair lady of Ascalot. She lives.


“It is cold tonight. The night is dark.”

“Yes. How is the queen?”

“Well, my lord, she is well. A prince was born tonight.”

“So it is. (a pause) Thank you. I will go see her in the morning.”


The servant retires. Lancelot stays a long while yet, staring at the sea. Finally he turns around and enters the tower. Dawn is already pulling apart the curtains of night. Soon, there will be light.

2020 - Spring

A Mysterious Encounter

Image: © Katharina Schwarck

Author: Katharina Schwarck

Trigger Warning: This text contains mentions of alcoholism and addiction

I walked into that supermarket by chance. It wasn’t in my neighbourhood, and I rarely went there. Suddenly, I had remembered that I had an empty fridge and since the closing time of the shops was near, I decided to take advantage of it. So, I went in, and while I was looking for something quick to prepare for dinner, a man I’d never seen before approached me. Strangely enough he knew my name and even more strangely, he knew my job. In fact, he asked me: “Hi, Geraldine. They always let you go so late at the editorial office, eh?”. It had already happened that a stranger had said that I had the face of a journalist and it was also possible that he had seen my work badge that I was still wearing when I entered the shop. Therefore, I decided not to pay attention to this man and kept heading towards the checkout. “And you always eat these dumplings when you don’t feel like cooking,” he said, following me. That was true, but it had to be a coincidence. I was taking the money out of the bag to pay when the stranger threw a bottle of wine on the conveyor belt. He smiled at me. “But be careful, Mr Bacchus!” the cashier shouted, evidently knowing the man. He apologized. “I always come here, you know, humans’ wine is simply tastier than ours,” he said without ceasing to smile at me. Now he was plainly bothering me. “And maybe he’s had a little too much already?” I asked him, raising my voice aggressively. He giggled. “That wouldn’t happen to you, would it? Don’t worry, you’ll never drink again in your life.” A few years ago, I had a big drinking problem, I was a real addict. I kept it secret and not even my best friends know about it. I managed to get out of it and there hasn’t been a single drop of alcohol in my blood since. “Who are you?” I said out loud, now clearly scared. The man stopped smiling and, to my surprise, started crying. “No one ever recognizes a small god like me!” I paid as fast as I could and left. Outside, I turned around and saw the man right behind me, the bottle in his hand. The cashier had really sold it to him. I was too scared to move. Now he was smiling again. “Are you going back to Giorgio’s now?” he asked me. “Ah no, that’s next year. Sorry, I always mix up the past and the future. Anyway, don’t worry about a thing. I’m always here to take care of you,” he added proudly. He reached his hand out as if to touch me. I closed my eyes, terrified. I felt nothing. I opened them again. He was gone and I was holding an empty bottle in my hand.


2020 - Spring

Poems by Céline Naito


Image: © Céline Naito.

Author: Céline Naito.

Giant Empty
John Jasperse Company, Wexner Center for the Arts, Nov. 2001

The last lights of the day,
A city.
Any urban decay
Looks empty.

Like stones in a Zen garden,
Buildings aligned
Are forgotten.

Giants are all around,
Dancing their non-feelings.
Life is a wound,
Movements are burning.

The remnants of an ancient time,
Are dressed in deformity.
Nakedness is no crime,
In a quiet fury.

In every urban area,
Giants too have insomnia.



corona feast

Image: © Céline Naito.

Author: Céline Naito.

Corona Feast
Delightful things today.

A myriad of birds chirping at the sky, fully theirs.
Dormant cars left unheard, even here in the forest.

The hooves of a deer and then, a rustle of leaves
A shadow at first and then, it all became clear,

It stopped, just to make sure it was you
Then fled
The glimmering light and the leafless trees,
Back to the stag in your mind.

Bees humming,

Which turned out to be ants,
So many red and black ants,
Going about their things
Among the crispy leaves.

A trail of criss-crossing echoes surrounds them.

Leaves pushing their own green birth,
While the painter’s forsythia
Proudly produces its yellow.

And the poor bug that fell on my laptop
On the table this evening

Its wings burned for wanting too much.

2020 - Spring

Poems by Marie McMullin

Images: © Marie McMullin

Author: Marie McMullin



Arms Open

Once unbound

                        your hair cascaded down your back

just as wild but lighter than the laughter


hard as hail

as the storm brew in your eyes.

                                                   Once I tried

to anchor your grief

hand held out

in vain

wisps of hair trailed your escape.


Still at the table

me here

you there

wounds glimpsed through vapours

of brewing tea made me believe

my hand

by inch

 by inch

would grasp solid flesh

that took flight

light breeze

and poured us more tea

me here

you there.


Walking side by side,

should I believe the joy lighting

your eyes, promising,

or the gap from your hand to mine


the stuff of dreams?


So many years, love, standing apart.

One step is enough

to walk into arms held open

so long bereft and aching

to reach round your neck and swear

I’ve got you.

I’ve got you.



The birdhouse has two new lodgers;
This year the happy pair are blue tits.
They’ve already started on home improvements:
Twigs, moss and blades of grass,
And even a tuft of dog fur the breeze
Carried off when I gave him a brush.
Madam settles out of sight,
Mister flutters anxiously about.
And then the heavy lifting begins:
Open mouths crowding the door,
Relentless hungry cries spurring on
Parents to endure fourteen-hour shifts
And keep the worms and insects coming.
Such loud chirping lacks discretion –
The magpie that massacred last year’s brood
Lurks about again, its shadow
Stretching over the many bodies
Of the neighbourhood’s cats, cut-throats languishing
Below the nest. One well-aimed stone
Makes them scatter; they’ll be back.
This doesn’t lessen the incessant comings
And goings of these two tiny birds,
Ceaselessly working towards a future
That isn’t promised; perhaps that’s hope.


From the window I see the moon
Peering through a veil of clouds.
I stare, and say hello, my sister
In solitude across the many miles.
Silent, but there, and kind enough
To let me believe she sends back
The gazes of others far away
Looking up and adoring her face.

The night sky is studded with stars.
Lyra, Aquilla, Andromeda –
Stories riddle the ether.
Light years away and out of sight,
Galaxies come to life and die,
And still blaze on in the dark
Writing off both time and space.
It is enough to make you believe in fate.

Sibylline stars, chartering courses
With incandescent ciphers.
Who else learns the universe
Expands, retracts,
Is born and held in a name?
Stepping up to Atlas,
I push the skies off his shoulders.