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On the nativity tree there is a tiny lute, a French horn and painted egg,
a crèche carved from olive wood, a trumpeting angel.
The Cossack in his red tunic dances between a bird’s nest and some Eiffel Towers.
In the iced window it seems as if a cathedral shivers in mist and its bells shower
stones as bits of torn cloud float toward the spires. There are also boats sailing
in the window, and a city resembling Dresden or Hamburg after the war.
Anna is there, crocheting smoke, not speaking English anymore, as if English
had put out her memory like a broom on a fire. The snows drift all the way
to the roof of the house, so it is no longer possible to open the door.
She tells us that on this night in her village, they would carry home
a live carp wrapped in paper that had just been swimming in a barrel.
The fish would silver the snow and have its life taken by a sharp axe.
The potatoes that had grown eyes in the cellar would be brought up
and baked with the fish, and there would be beet soup, black bread and wine
made from mulberries. Something would be given to each of them,
a thing they wanted but didn’t need, and then they would sleep as
if in a boat at sea with the bright carp swimming the snow of their thoughts.
Then she’d be off, tunneling through the drifts as only a spirit could tunnel,
leaving behind a coin purse, a crystal broach, a holy card
with her own birth and death dates so we would know that she hadn’t
visited us, that her satin-pillowed coffin was still in the ground.
Nevertheless, the tinsel flickered as she passed, the tiny lighthouse
sent its signal to the boats, and the sheep bounded away over the fir branch
tufted with wool, and in every glass bulb, there we were, children descended
from her on a winter night, to whom she taught the past, to whom she gave the present.
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How would I know / when I’m empty and quiet like breath?
Historian Gerald Horne has developed a grand theory of U.S. history as a series of devastating backlashes to progress—right down to the present day.
Reflecting on three monumental works of modernism—James Joyce’s Ulysses, T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, and Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus—a hundred years on.