time, oscillating

Station Clock

Station Clock (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the meantime I discovered the places “where the seams come undone”, as my mother called it. Every classroom in my school had a clock on the wall right over the door, and all the clocks had identical clock faces, and every one of them showed a slightly different time.

I don’t know whether clocks in classrooms today are all connected to one central, totalitarian time piece as I suspect might be the case, though I hope it is not so. I always loved the way time oscillated between classes, obstinately refusing to be tamed. Officially, students had three minutes to walk to the next classroom after a period ended. But for the way from science to math, for example, you’d better made do with 1 minute and 29 seconds – the clock in Ms. Kirsch’s class was as fast as our teacher’s ability to conjure numbers out of the back entrance to Hilbert’s Hotel and as inexorable as her refusal to admit to time measured outside her class room.

On the other hand, you could afford to leisurely stroll to French after that, using not only the 1 minute and 31 leftover seconds from math but also the 40 seconds the French clock was late, giving you an ample 5 minutes and 11 seconds (not counted the additional minute or two Mme. Petite rustled with her papers, ignoring her students’ ongoing conversation). The clock in language arts had the peculiar and infamous habit of stopping at exactly 12.01 pm every couple of weeks and could only be persuaded back into service by Superintendent Segrob who, for that very reason, was particularly fond of it, and year after year insisted on repairing rather than replacing it.

Every day for a few moments just before noon instruction in language arts paused and everyone’s eyes followed the unhurried second hand making its way from 11.59.59 am to just after 12.01.02 pm. It was almost like a pagan ritual, these approximately sixty-three seconds of silence, as if we were paying our respects to the spirit of the clock, Time. Time, sputtering, fleeing, stopping, resuming its course, divided itself up over the 79 clocks in our school according to its own preference. With other words, it seemed to be on our side and refused to be institutionalized.

I know that the language art clock did not stop on that day. I don’t think it would have been possible for it to stop while I was willing it on. Apart from Time herself though nobody noticed that I counted every second of the school day, 24,000 seconds in all, stops, gains and losses, until, at last, the 2.47 pm bell wrapped it all up hurriedly and dropped the leftovers for the time dogs.

Uncle Gustave

Self-Portrait with Straw Hat

at times, i was barely four back then, i kept company with an ancient man in a black ribboned straw hat, gustave, uncle gustave, as he was known throughout the neighborhood. but i called him gustave.

he slowly walked down our street, with the help of an ivory colored cane, vulnerable, yet erect like a king who
though victoriously has fought his last battle and now
has nothing left to prove.

he left his sun yellow house with the forest green shutters
at exactly 2.10 pm every sunny day,
to an agonizingly slow approach of his bench,
even the birds stopped twittering and held their breath
as he was passing by
for fear to startle him.
his bench: dark green under an old chestnut tree,
facing away from the the bay, towards the street.
he carefully sat down, pulling up the legs of his dark suit,
and i climbed onto the bench right next to him,
but threading my legs through the wooden lattice of the back rest
i saw the silver water of the bay, the light caught in the crescents
of the small waves the undercurrent stirred up.
he looked at the street, I looked at the bay,
and we were silent
or talked in low, whispering voices.
we both knew he was dying,
right there and then,
and then for some more weeks to come.
we did not mind,
neither the three nor the ninety-three year old,
i had not been alive for the longest part
of his life,
and he would be dead for the longest
time of mine.

Plinius, the cat


IMG_5564She had been busy herself lately, working on an oversized, unstretched canvas that was spread over the floor in the room that in other houses would have been the living room but in our house was an art space and a library. Right now you couldn’t even enter it without risking to step into wet paint. Plinius had learned to avoid the canvas, just like everybody else he balanced around it on the outer edges.

IMG_0341When he was a kitten still he had managed to get his fur and his paws coated with oil paint a couple of times, some of the paintings dating back to his childhood show his then tiny paw prints (the adult Plinius left raccoon-foot sized prints in the garden). He had been thoroughly disgusted by the experience, furiously licking the Tyrian Purple and Cadmium Red spots on his ginger tabby fur. Strangely enough, as a grown cat he enjoyed finding a place as close to the wet paint as possible.

English: pigment red 108 cadmium

English: pigment red 108 cadmium (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There he sat down, often on the stretch of canvas that wasn’t actually part of the painting, but that my mother uses to clean brushes and that she calls the “annotative margin”. He purred his fat Plinius purr while he was watching the loaded brushes rush over the canvas. Cats like to live their lives in the margins and on the edges, I guess.


Sir Thomas More

Portrait of Sir Thomas More (Holbein)

Portrait of Sir Thomas More (Holbein) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It seems to me that where private properties exist, where all men measure all things in relation to money, it is hardly possible to establish, in public affairs, a regime at once just and prosperous, unless you esteem it just that the best things belong to the worst persons, or unless you judge it well that all goods be shared among the fewest people who even then are not entirely satisfied, whilst all others are in the direst poverty. This is why I reflect upon the Constitution of the Utopians, so wise, so morally irreproachable, among whom with the fewest possible laws all is regulated for the good of all, in such a way that merit is rewarded; and that, in a sharing from which no one is excluded, everyone has nonetheless a large part.

Sir Thomas More

a very small portrait of a marriage

日本語: 日本で開催された第12回国際鳥類保護会議を記念する朱鷺を描く切手。

日本語: 日本で開催された第12回国際鳥類保護会議を記念する朱鷺を描く切手。 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


They never talked to each other of their feelings. After a while it was difficult to say whether they didn’t talk because they didn’t want to deepen the grief in the other, whether they were anxious that even the one person they shared their grief with would not be able to relate to its depth or even feel hurt by it – or whether it was because they were guarding their own grief with a certain possessive jealousy. The spring changed their marriage. It was the first time they did not talk to each other about something that kept their minds occupied.  It became more difficult to talk about the daily life as well.


Thus they were quiet in each other’s company. Iris was dedicating herself to creating miniature watercolors, none of them larger than the palm of a woman’s hand, some as small as a postal stamp. She used the finest brushes and worked deliberately slow. She had perched a nature encyclopedia on the kitchen table and truthfully to nature had copied illustrations of small insects and birds, placing them in imaginary and impossible landscapes filled with a soft green light that on better days implied a spring day, on days of more severe depression dark and damp shadows.

thin ice

IMGP0071_2on an early winter’s day a small girl is contemplating the fine layer of ice that, over night, has been glazing over the surface of the fjord. the fine glass is firm enough to carry a duck sliding more that waddling on her webbed feet, making towards the dark canal of open water a fisher boat has left in its wake this morning. it is a comical sight to watch the duck struggling to make progress on the polished ice, the bird looks like harpo on skates.

a little further off the shore a small lake has been kept open by another group of water birds continuously swimming to keep their hole from freezing over, among them two swans who for the time being have resigned themselves to the company of the more common water fowl as their attempts at escape have been defied by their weight.

the girls narrows her eyes as she tentatively put one foot out on the ice, holding on to the orphaned pole the boat upon its return will bet tied to. a large bubble of air that somehow has been trapped underneath the ice near the pole displaces itself under the weight of the child’s feet and causes the ice to sigh. the child smiles with appreciation.

she is old enough to realize that the surface that will not carry a swan’s weight will not carry her own. furthermore, she has been firmly instructed to never walk on the ice before being told that it is safe to do so.

but no ones knows that she is as fast as lightning. they don’t know that she can make herself as light as a feather by breathing just so. with her eyes she follows the path her light foot would take, by a split second faster than the breaking ice. she would reach the other shore before the fjord could ever hope to claim her, she can see it now, can see herself running out there, triumphantly, defying nature and convention in one glorious run.

snake woman

Small viperine snake

Small viperine snake (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

taking a walk in a field i found a snake about to molt, wedged between two rocks. carefully i crouched down next to her and watched her efforts to escape her old skin. the wind was gently breathing over the field, above us some birds chattering idly, then they withdrew. in the ensuing silence i heard a gentle whisper.

“i am liquifying the space between my new skin and my old, waiting for the right moment to leave behind one skin and assume the next. i feel new scales glittering under the brittle parchment i am about to leave. i have always enjoyed the moment when it was time to withdraw from the old serpent‘s confinement and greet the light again.

how many times i have done this? i do not remember. i do remember, however, my previous incarnations quite clearly still but there is no sentimentality towards them. i do not dislike them but they are alien to me even though the pattern my scales imprinted on the left behind skins is unmistakably mine. if necessary, i address my past manifestations respectfully and formally the way i would greet a stranger – but i prefer to acknowledge them with a glance and a nod only whenever i chance to happen upon an old skin adopted by some harmless creature as a clever disguise, and I silently slide by.

i don’t remember sliding out of my first skin and i am sure i will not keep a memory of my last one either. someone has told me they are the same, first and last. i listened with polite interest as snakes do. that means i did not listen, you know that.

i am liquefying the space between my old skin and my new one. my new scales glitter under the brittle parchment of my old skin as i am about to give birth to myself once again.”

and with these words she freed herself. for a moment i could admire her jewel-like new incarnation and she held still as if to allow it. She lifted her head ever so slightly and for a moment met my eyes.  Then, with a glance and a nod, she disappeared – fast as lightning into a hidden crevice between the two rocks and left me shuddering and brittle.

children’s rights are human rights

Flag of UNICEF

Flag of UNICEF (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

today no poem. on the front pages of today’s newspapers, august 22nd 2013, i see the pictures of countless children wrapped in funeral shrouds, victims of chemical war fare in syria. i have seen too many dead children in all kinds of wars over the last decades. in 1989 the nations of this world – save two – have ratified the convention on the rights of the child and therefore promised to protect the children of this world during peace time and during war to the best of their ability. we, the international community, we , the people of this world, have promised that we would at least protect all of our children from the dreadful consequences of our universal greed, stupidity and our inability to live with each other in peace as nations. we have promised this because in our hearts we know that we will be found wanting, all of us, any one of us, if we do not acknowledge that children’s rights are human rights, that we are not deserving of any peace if we do not care for, shelter and protect all children regardless of their nation or social origin, their birth or status, their language, race or religion. these days we fall awfully short of our promise.