Edvard Munch: Self-Portrait in Hell
He was convinced, as usual, that he was about to suffer a complete breakdown. The day’s work had begun badly and gotten worse with each additional brush stroke. He squinted at the muddled canvas on the easel as though it were someone else’s, the fantastical product of a stranger’s delirium. The street outside his window was turning red and black. He tilted his head to the right, the left, the right again, trying to view his painting in progress from the most forgiving angle. There was a moment when what he couldn’t express in words or figurative gestures he might have in a scream, and then the moment passed.
At Eternity’s Gate
A man arrives on a train to visit his father at a sanatorium. The doctor at the sanatorium says the father has died, but the man glimpses his father being led away down the hall by an attendant. The father is barefoot. His hands are bound behind him with wire. The man is too startled to intervene. Meanwhile, the doctor has climbed into bed next to a patient and fallen asleep. The man somehow knows he must catch the next train back to the city if he isn’t to become trapped in the sanatorium. Hurrying toward the station, he sees the corpse of his father hanging from a lamppost, a savage pack of dogs standing guard over the body. A train whistle blows. The man realizes with a pang that the train has left without him. Time is decomposing. One townsperson in six hasn’t noticed or doesn’t care. There is no night, no day, just twilight.
The Third Reich of Dreams
It was snowing. Because the Germans didn’t give them water, the women who were packed together in the roofless boxcars collected the snow to drink. When any woman fell asleep standing – there was no room to sit or lie down – none of the others would steal the snow that accumulated on her. That snow belonged to her. On a train bound to nowhere you know where you are.
For the first time in decades, ducks were seen swimming in the fountains, and dolphins splashing in the canals. Hitler’s former chief of staff, Rudolph Hess, 93 and the only inmate in a prison designed to hold 600, had hanged himself. One look at his death grimace, and water lilies sprouted in the prison guard’s lungs.
The grave is now empty. His bones are gone. The faithful used to make pilgrimages to the gravesite. They would lay floral wreaths and salute his epitaph: “I dared.” Police on horses tried to keep control. The blood stood in puddles in some places. But the flowers would always be back on his next birthday.
Politics has become interested in me. Just the other night I dreamed I was rushing across campus. I was late for a class I taught. When I entered the building where my class was held, nothing was familiar to me and I had no idea where I was. I started walking up a very long flight of stairs. The stairs grew steeper the higher I went. By the time I reached the top, I was winded and covered in sweat. Then I saw the swastika painted on the wall. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know where to hide.
A Royal Screwing
During his years of wandering from Berlin to Paris to Moscow and back again, Walter Benjamin kept a diary. “Keep your diary,” he cautioned himself in an early entry, “as strictly as the authorities keep their register of aliens.” In his tiny spidery handwriting he recorded dreams, Yiddishisms, profane illuminations. Paris at the time was plagued with packs of stray dogs. Returning to his pensione one night from a hashish party, he saw the dogs were actually men made dogs by their passions. He knew in that moment that all perception was distortion, a kind of phantasmagoria, the blue velvet and gilt doghouse Marie Antoinette had had built for one of her puppies.
HOWIE GOOD’S latest poetry collection, Gun Metal Sky, is due in early 2021 from Thirty West Publishing.