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The Little Review
Making No Compromises With the Public Taste
Poem for Sunday 
Sunday, 25th March 2007 12:10 am

Ballad of the Gasfitter 2
By Gerrit Achterberg
Translated by J.M. Coetzee

At your address, by daylight, on the job
disguised in workman's clothing, I wheel round
and behold You standing there. Walls turn to ground,
ceiling slowly becomes a marble slab.

We fade to each other in murky light.
The room is saturated, won't hold more.
This can't go on. I turn the screws down tight.
As long as I devote myself to this chore

we can proceed as we are, incognito --
as long as I stay busy, bend or kneel
or lie flat on my belly trying to feel
what's wrong; thinking to myself, It's better so .
Dead silence by a hammer blow dispelled.
Death hush by which the hammer blows are healed.


From Robert Pinsky's Poet's Choice column in The Washington Post Book World, the second poem in Achterberg's sonnet sequence "The Gasfitter" which "involves an eerie borderland between the ordinary and the obsessive," writes Pinsky. "Part naturalistic story, part allegory, the sequence tells of the fitter's hopeless, consuming love for a mysteriously unattainable 'You.' As in horror narratives, the disguise of a familiar surface makes underlying obsession more terrible and disorienting." The original lines in Dutch appear facing Coetzee's English translations in Landscape with Rowers: Poetry from the Netherlands, so that the reader "can see that the word 'fitter' looks identical in the two languages. 'Fitter' suggests 'maker,' the Greek root of our word 'poet.'"

It was my husband's birthday, so we spent the day with his parents. Our original plan was to go downtown to various museums, but we had forgotten that the DC marathon was Saturday morning and traffic was expected to be disastrous, so instead we went out to lunch at the Corner Bakery and then went to the National Air & Space Museum's Udvar-Hazy Center, which they had never visited. It wasn't quite as colorful as the last time we were there (Halloween), as the guards weren't dressed as stormtroopers, but the crowds were much smaller and we spent more time looking at the early aircraft and World War I exhibits than we had previously. My father-in-law wasn't feeling terrific -- his pacemaker has been giving him trouble -- and my mother-in-law was somewhat subdued because they are leaving Sunday morning to go to her brother's funeral, but we had a nice afternoon with them chatting about how much money is wasted on war technology instead of technology for the betterment of humankind and things like that.

Boeing-Stearman N2S-5 Kaydet, built in Wichita, Kansas, used in World War II Army and Navy training for US military.

The French SPAD XVI, introduced in January 1918, so named because it was built by the Societe Anonyme Pour l'Aviation et ses Derives.

Germany's Halberstadt CL.IV, which the museum called one of the best ground attack aircraft of World War I. This one was captured and transferred from the US Air Force Museum.

My son's favorite aircraft name: Focke-Achgelis Fa 330A, a rotary-wing kite used in the 1940s by German submarines to locate enemy targets in the Indian Ocean.

The SR-71 Blackbird Stealth, built by Lockheed, a Mach 3 reconnaissance aircraft retired in 1998. It was never invisible on radar but it was able to outfly anything fired at it. You can see the shuttle Enterprise in the hangar behind it.

And a non-warplane, the Fowler-Gage Biplane, flown ocean to ocean across Panama by Robert G. Fowler in 1913.

When we got back to Maryland from Virginia, we stopped at Borders because I wanted to pick up Out of Egypt (had it on reserve and had a coupon only good through Sunday), as I intend to read everything Andre Aciman ever wrote and although I can get False Papers for fourteen cents plus postage from a used dealer, it won't arrive before we leave on Wednesday. Then we went to Tara Thai, where we tore through five main dishes plus soup, and then came home for birthday cake. So I am quite contentedly stuffed, though I feel weird talking about how much pleasure I get from food right now because I just got a snide comment from a non-LJ friend about how I should work out more and maybe I won't get headaches. Another is lecturing me on how narrow-minded I am not to want to pay $10 to see 300, yet another is giving me tsuris about fannish stupidity...do other people ever have days when they think they must be really fucked up if even their friends have so many issues with them? I would have had a pretty nice day without this in spite of the fact that my in-laws are grieving.

My father is doing really well in his office NCAA pool and Kansas losing helps, since he picked Ohio State. I am now reluctantly rooting for Georgetown to beat NC. Was thinking of The Prestige when I read "Why Not Just Hold a Seance?", an article about how a bunch of not-terribly-successful Houdini authors got one of his relatives to go along with a plan to exhume his body to see whether he was murdered rather than dying after unsuccessful treatment for a burst appendix after being punched in a stunt gone wrong. It was his rival, Angier! Have just watched Daniel Radcliffe on Jonathan Ross courtesy The Leaky Cauldron and am howling both at Dan explaining how many people have criticized his sexual technique while Ross protests that he's too young and at Ross' "Go see Equus if you want to see great theatre or you just want to see Harry Potter's cock!"
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