Looking for My Husband


In the middle of the square, a seated figure (not a man on a horse) was thinking

thoughts as smooth and round as stones.


They were a family of four:  man, woman, child, and a dog they did not have

because the woman refused to take care of another thing.


If the birds are tweeting and the sky blue he tends to be on edge, waiting for the other

shoe to drop.


She knows what he likes to eat but not much else.


If she walks to the town square every day, pressing her hand on the tattooed sgraffito

of old yellow buildings, she might find the answer to the long-running argument

between the light of day and his dark thoughts.


The child was wrought from river mud, rising up, taking shape, its porcelain head

attached by a wide stem of straw.


A Slovakian-born guide reports that the ruling class gave Jews funny names like

Garfinkle, Goldstucker, Rosenzweig, Schwartz, Mandelbaum.  Could thought,

erudition efface the name?


The lower clock at Maisel’s sweeps backward, clock-hands dragging, undoing the

advance of the upper hands.  After blood is shed, money spent, we honor valor,

cutting words into stone.  Before words are spent, we are soft, formless, perfect with

possibility.  Born against our will, we cry at birth. Have you ever cracked an egg,

then felt a twinge as the golden yolk tumbles out?


Standing in a slanted doorway, the Hunchback and Sick Man are inseparable, cool

and dark as shadows, watching others drop out of sight.


Upholstered in a new corset, the Poor Relations Aunt learns to breathe through  

her nose.


Locked up at night, it was a strict space teeming with thought; the smaller it was, the

more it held.


In the palace garden, real birds tweet before the overture.  A girl in period costume

flirts with a boy in courtly tights and high-heeled shoes.  She reaches for sunglasses

propped on top of her head, blotting out her blue eyes.  He likes the effect.


Even the fun-loving argument of too many notes is eventually abandoned, resolving

into a grand, unifying chord.  The crowd murmurs.


In any grand gesture, ignore the beginning and the end, looking to the middle, the

middle of the middle, the interstitial spaces of breath, not words or notes.  Striking a

rock before it miraculously gushes water to the thirsty mobs, tapping the podium,

even pointing with one’s finger is playing to the crowd.


Afterward, the boy found the girl.  By then, she had changed into jeans and a

sweater.  Young and in love, they looked for a grassy meadow but found none, so

they made the ditch their bed, the bridge their shelter, the tower their own.


An ordinary curb sign = “Achtung!” 


Another of many concessions was the tolerance tax, allowing rich Jews to live in

stately apartments, Residenzstadt, surrounding the much vaunted Ringstrasse.


Nevertheless, the little archduchess refused to look at her moneylender, asking that a

screen be placed between herself and him.  It was an eight-fold standing screen from

another dynasty far away:  called chaekkori or “scholar’s accoutrements,” it depicted

bookshelves of 24 compartments, holding stacks of books, papers, inks, flowers, and

small, curious objects.  


Sometimes, the scholar in his study would gaze out the window, listlessly picking up

one, then another object from his bookshelf.  His favorite was a figure of a girl

sitting back onto her folded legs, arms at her side, looking straight ahead—so small,

he could fit her in the palm of his hand, probably a toy for a real girl who was

expected to pack up and go at a moment’s notice, roaming the steppes as a way of

life.  He was too old and tired to play with toys, so he imbued the tiny figure with an

exoticism of the unknown, a totem for scholarly thoughts.


On a quiet side street at Berggasse 19, another scholar sat at another window.  His

famous couch looked like a Middle Eastern chaise with richly woven rugs and

cushions.  Among his books and papers were arranged his own collection of totems,

small dark figures from Asia and Africa.  


In a basement office overlooking a tiny garden, an exceptionally tall woman sits in a   

winged chair opposite another woman in an unwinged chair, asking questions about

a recurring dream.  The wood-paneled interior is softly lit, a single wild orchid

exploding from a Chinese vase, earth-toned wall hangings whispering “texture.”


When the wingless woman wakes up, she is exhausted, sleepy during the day,

restless at night.  In her dream, she shuttles back and forth between two places—two

houses?  Two of something, but nothing looks familiar.  Sometimes she’s carrying a

load—what is it?—other times, she walks along, rushing, then dragging, looking

forward, backward, for a sign, anything to mark the way.  Lately, she’s been feeling

sorry for the tall woman with a long face, taking notes on a yellow pad.


The following week, the wingless woman describes a dream she never had.  The

story starts slowly, full of weather, but picks up speed as the woman talks.  The

dream is opera:  mistaken identity, entrances and exits, an aria like a tiered wedding

cake:  for the first time in months, she feels a lift, an exhalation.  Smiling through her

tears, the tall woman calls it a “breakthough.”  


Avoiding meat, chewing his food very well (counting), Kafka read more than he ate. 

He read that the lions in East Africa have grown wary of the Masai in their red robes

and that, somehow, lion hunting has been replaced by cattle herding among the

native warriors.  And, somehow, the told creation story is of cattle, not lions.  In his

diary, Kafka quotes from the scientific study of N. Soderblom, Archbishop of

Upsala, “The primordial divinity of the Masai:  how he lowered the first cattle down

from heaven on a leather strap to the first kraal.”


Just as primitive as that leather strap, but far less venerable, is the elevator in her

Soviet-era dormitory, a concrete block, Kajetanka Praha 6.  Although she still loved

the boy, her bed was more comfortable than a ditch.  Making rotary noises that sound

like a mantra for “mechanical failure,” the elevator lowers her down, scraping

against the threshold of each floor.  


Before they met in the palace gardens, the elevator had broken down.  She watched

two workmen tinker with the cable gears.  Stopped midway, she could see the

bottom of the car and the looming drop of the 14-floor shaft to the ground floor.  The

toolbox looked too small next to the two big men in orange overalls, the ratchets

looking like cheap toys.  Scenes of entrapment kept playing in her head, in grainy

duotone.  For days, she walked up and down 12 flights of stairs until finally

relenting, taking the dread elevator.  Its floor buttons still malfunctioning, like sticky

keys on an Underwood, it rattled up and down.


Years later, in her middle age, she took up the use of sharp, dangerous objects, even

for mundane jobs like opening a jar of pickles. 


The boy, of course, grew older but not wiser.  Sitting on a park bench, watching cars

whiz by, he thought about the girl and that magical night in the palace gardens,

music in the trees, eloping to a happy marriage of a ditch, a bridge, a tower.  Just

before dozing off, his heart contracted and almost burst at a sudden vision of the girl.


The woman tells of another dream, my husband holds me against his clean white T-

shirt.  He tells me how good it feels to have me back where I belong.  The tall

woman interjects, that doesn’t sound like a dream.  The wingless one continues, the

birds are tweeting.  The sky is blue.  I miss a thousand spires piercing a dark sky.  I

miss the castle, the river, and most of all, the Kajetanka elevator.


The tall woman stops writing.  She says that this so-called dream sounds like a

fabrication of the conscious mind.  So, the wingless woman tells another dream— 

poor people standing in line for bread, longer lines of even poorer people who buy

poetry with bread money.  Imagine that!  Poetry more precious than bread!   


The tall woman writes furiously, underlining key words.  Having started this session

in a weakened state, depleted of life’s juices, the wingless wonder takes off, telling

one dream after another.  The women exchange chairs, the tall one now seated in the

wingless chair, head bent over her script, amanuensis to the other. 


On the bridge, Sadakat Kadri tells us, you will find a poor old man who draws

pictures of himself with horns and a lolling tongue.  He will sketch a portrait of you

for a dollar.  Most people walk quickly past him, avoiding his eyes.  If you ask him

what he wants more than anything, he will say that he wants to buy a dolphin and

keep it in his bath.










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