The Audacity, Oh the Audacity!

Donald Heath calls his wife and son back to Berlin (they’d taken refuge in Oslo after Germany invaded Poland) and then breaks it to his wife: their eleven-year-old son will be the courier for messages between Donald and Mildred Harnack. It takes Louise Heath several days to agree.

This is what happens: the Heaths and the Harnacks meet for a picnic in the Spreewald, “a heavily-wooded area sixty miles southeast of Berlin.” Don Jr. is “dressed for the part: black short pants, tan knee socks, tan shirt, and a black cap — the uniform of the Deutsches Jungvolk in der Hitlerjugend — a division of Hitler Youth for boys between ten and fourteen.”

Don Jr. “runs up ahead . . . he is always the lookout.” When he spots “Germans in uniform,” he remembers his father’s instructions and bursts into song:

Die Fahne hoch! Die Reihen fest geschlossen!
SA marschiert mit ruhig festern Schritt!

(Imagine teaching your 11-year-old to sing Hitler Youth songs! That is why self chose the title that she did for this post)

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Cable, Donald Heath to US Secretary of the Treasury Morgenthau

Morgenthau’s decision to send Donald Heath to Berlin turns out to be god-level.

24 April 1939:

The (US) Embassy has received reliable information that the German Embassy in London has been informed by (Neville) Chamberlain that Great Britain is prepared to release to the Reich most of the Czech gold reserves which was on deposit in London . . . This news is surprising to Reich officials who look on it with somewhat amused disdain. They interpret it as an indication that Chamberlain is still inclined to gestures of “appeasement” and a belief that financial enticements can be used to buy off the Reich.

All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days, p. 294

Neville Chamberlain absolutely capitulated to Hitler. He was the Kevin McCarthy of 1939. And Donald Heath was no dummy.

War breaks out. Germany invades Poland. Most of the US Embassy packs up and heads home, but Donald stays. He sends his wife and son to Oslo for their safety.

Louise and Don are in Oslo through September and October. On Nov. 4, Louise receives a telegram from her husband: COME BACK TO BERLIN.

If Louise knew WHY Donald suddenly wanted them both back to Berlin, she probably wouldn’t have agreed!

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Goebbels, Sounds Like “Gobbles”

Goebbels at a press conference: The looters were “systematically trained” to commit their crimes by “a Jewish organization.” — ATFTOOD, pp. 289 – 290

In other words, KRISTALLNACHT was FAKE NEWS!

Stay tuned.

First Poetry Friday of 2022: A Hunt!

Sir Gawain is feted by a Lord who is very generous with his table. There is much revelry, much laughter, the whole night long. Then, at break of dawn, mass (!), followed by a hunt.

The stags of the herd with their high-branched heads
and the broad-horned bucks were allowed to pass by,
for the lord of the land had laid down a law
that man should not maim the male in close season.
But the hinds were halted with hollers and whoops
and the din drove the does to sprint for the dells.
Then the eye can see that the air is all arrows:
all across the forest they flashed and flickered,
biting through hides with their broad heads.

To be shot by arrows is a particularly gruesome way to die, which self grew to appreciate after watching The Revenant. A forest ambush — the arrowheads were so substantial that self felt ill whenever one entered a human target.

While the lord is at the hunt, the lady of the house attempts to seduce Gawain. But even though she has bolted the door to his chambers, and has him pinned to the bed, he grants her no more than a kiss. In the movie, the lady of the house is played by Alicia Vikander. Self remembers sitting in the theater and being very confused.

Next, a scene of the gutting of the deer, which thank the lord was not in the movie (An excerpt: “Next they lopped off the legs and peeled back the pelt/and hooked out the bowels through the broken belly”). It seems to go on forever, every part of the deer is described, including the offal.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Excerpt from “Sand” (Pembroke Magazine No. 53)

Published here.

  • And then my dreams started. I dreamt of matryoshka dolls dancing around my bed. I dreamt my boyfriend, Melvin, had turned into a matryoshka doll. He stood next to me, making matryoshka doll faces. His severely penciled eyebrows acquired the intensity of lightning bolts. “Fuck!” I said. “Melvin, stop making matryoshka doll faces at me.” Melvin disappeared, and in his place was a dancing chicken. A dancing grilled chicken. A barbecue stick skewering each wing. I couldn’t believe Melvin had turned into a chicken and there was a chance I might eat him. Then I woke up. That’s how I knew, if I didn’t steal my mother’s Chopard earrings, and soon, I’d always be the kind of person whose boyfriend turned into a matryoshka doll that made faces at her.

It doesn’t read quite as exciting on the page, but I can assure you, the effect on the Banff audience when I read that passage was electric!

It’s actually a very melancholy story.

Stay tuned.

Banff Centre for the Arts: Introducing the Program in Literary Journalism

This summer, from July 4 to July 16, Banff is offering a new program, Literary Journalism. Meetings are in-person on the Banff campus. Self knows one of the instructors, Charlotte Gill.

Self was at Banff Writers Studio, seven years ago, when she was just starting her novel, and the feedback she got from her mentors was invaluable. She wishes she could enroll for this program, as she’d do anything to get back to Banff again, but she’s not a journalist. (The only caveat was that she got fat. They give you a food allowance at the start, and there are five eateries to choose from. By the end of the five weeks, everyone in her program was complaining how much weight they’d gained. Then we had to pose for group pictures, which was really embarrassing.)

At the MacLab, she once sat one table over from k. d. lang — exciting, except she didn’t find out until after k.d. lang left. Part of the Writer’s Studio is giving a public reading, and self signed up for the very last day. She was so nervous, she had to drink a glass of wine beforehand. The story she read from was “Sand,” and had — profanity! There was some restless movement from the audience when she uttered the first word. After that, only laughter. So great.

btw, it took a while, but “Sand” finally found a home last year, in Pembroke Magazine:

Banff Centre’s Literary Journalism 2022 program encourages the exploration of new ideas in journalism and experimentation in writing. Designed to challenge and stimulate, the program aims to inspire creative pieces of nonfiction and to assist the writers in their completion. A preeminent space for long-form journalism, this residency emphasizes the strengths of thorough and articulate reporting, distinctive storytelling, and literary devices.

Application Deadline: March 9, 2022

Complete information can be found here.

The Green Knight

A look of lightning flashed
from somewhere in his soul.
The force of that man’s fist
would be a thunderbolt.

Yet he wore no helmet and no hauberk either,
no armored apparel or plate was apparent,
and he swung no sword nor sported any shield,
but held in one hand a sprig of holly —
of all the evergreens the greenest ever —
and in the other hand held the mother of all axes,
a cruel piece of kit I kid you not.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: a new verse translation by Simon Armitage

Simon Armitage’s SIR GAWAIN and the GREEN KNIGHT

What we know about the original:

  • It was “probably written around 1400.” It was recorded as being in the collection of Sir Robert Cotton, who also owned the Lindisfarne Gospels “and the only existing manuscript of Beowulf . . . but it did not come to light again until Queen Victoria was on the throne.”
  • Its official name is Cotton Nero A.x., and it sits (of course) in the British Library “under conditions of high security and controlled humidity.”
  • It was written down by “a jobbing scribe,” probably not the author.
  • A line from the manuscript: “Forthi, iwysse, bi yowre wylle, wende mi behoves.” (This was what medieval English sounded like! It has almost no similarity to modern English)

Self hopes she will actually be able to stick with this translation, all the way to the end. She has never read Sir Gawain in verse form. Verse (as opposed to poetry) isn’t really her thing. That said, she did read Emily Wilson’s translation of The Odyssey, and loved it. And she loves the story of Sir Gawain. Earlier this year she saw The Green Knight, supposedly based on this translation, which struck her as mysterious and strange. Which is what led her here.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

The Diary of Brig. Arthur Varley

Arthur Varley, a commander of the 22nd Australian Infantry Brigade, was one of those unfortunates who, almost at the tail end of the war, was loaded on a prison transport ship to be taken who-knows-where, a ship that was, tragically, sunk by a US submarine (The Japanese refused to mark their prisoner transport ships)

Fortunately, he had kept a meticulous diary during his internment and his forced labor on the Burma-Siam railroad and buried it near his camp in Thanbyuzayat, its whereaouts known only to a trusted few. After the war, during the War Crimes trials of the officers who ran the POW camps in Burma, the diary was located and the words of the “welcome speeches” given by certain officers, and in particular the words and actions of a sadistic officer who headed 80-kilo, 100-kilo, 105-kilo and 114-kilo camps, Lt. Colonel Yoshitada Nagatomo, came back to haunt them. Nagatomo, was hung in the jail in Chiangi, the same jail where so many POWS had been kept in isolation and tortured, on Sept. 16, 1947.

Sentence of the Day: Christmas Eve, 2021

Gus Forman, imprisoned in Changi, Singapore, where he had served in isolation for three months of what he was told was a six-year sentence (for plotting to escape), suddenly saw the door to his cell open. Sunlight flooded in, blinding him. He was ushered out and reunited with two other survivors of the USS Houston: Capt. Ike Parker and Major Windy Rogers.

They cringed at each other’s stench.

Ship of Ghosts, p. 405

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