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Notes in the Margin (Part VI)

Pasolini’s Legacy

Pasolini is remembered for his diverse and provocative body of work, which pushed the boundaries of what was considered acceptable in film and literature.

 His creations have had a lasting impact, inspiring generations of filmmakers and authors. His works often explored controversial social issues and challenged certain taboos, making him a controversial figure in his time.

 Despite this, his legacy has endured and his works continue to be studied and appreciated.

Pier Paolo Pasolini supported the less fortunate, the humble poor, whom he referred to as the “lumpen proletariat.”

 Despite coming from a middle-class background (his father was a military man), Pasolini relocated to Rome after being fired from his teaching job in his hometown due to allegations of “corruption of minors and obscene acts in a public space” which resulted in him being ostracized from the Communist Party.

 In the City Lights edition of Roman Poems, there are pictures of Pasolini wearing a trench coat and exploring desolate industrial areas and housing projects. Nonetheless, he was an honest and earnest communist who stood for all those who toiled for a living, no matter what.

In one of his Italian works, “The Lament of the Excavator,” Pasolini reflects on witnessing delivery boys count up their money.


Amidst the hustle and bustle of the streets,


he spoke to another without a quiver,


not embarrassed to witness coins being tallied


by lethargic messengers, sweating,


with the edifices streaming by


in the timeless hue of summer.


It brings back memories of my time as a pizza delivery boy in Chicago. I wasn’t a very competent one. I frequently got sidetracked and the pizzas would arrive to the customer 45 minutes to an hour behind schedule.

In the late ’80s, I was delivering pizza for Piero on the North Shore. I would always wait until I was back in my mom’s Corolla before I checked if I was given extra money.

 One night, I delivered a pizza to Melvie Rosenstein, a business associate of my father’s. He had a huge house on the lake, and was known for being kidnapped and held for ransom a few years before. 

My father said at the time, “Why would anyone want Melvie?” My mother responded, “They want money, not Melvie.” When I delivered the pizza, Melvie opened the door with a book under his arm, and shoved a wad of bills into my palm without saying a word.

 As I walked back to the Corolla, I counted the money – fourteen singles. I was still annoyed at Melvie for being so cheap. I thought to myself, my father was right – who would want him?

I, a suburban youth riding around in my mom’s car, was paid close to zero by Piero’s delivery boys. Any money I made was from tips

. Even though I was not a working man, I’m confident Pasolini would have argued that Melvie Rosenstein not compensating me was not acceptable. A laborer should be paid for his labor.

In 1975, Pasolini was killed in Ostia, Rome, and officially it is still said that he was struck down by a person he had asked for sexual favors.

 Nevertheless, it is more plausible that it was a politically-motivated assassination. The people in power had more than enough reasons to get rid of him, considering he had been challenging them for many years.

Nobody was quite important enough to warrant a killing, but I can imagine the abductors were tempted to do something drastic when they inspected the restroom and Melvie Rosenstein had vanished.

 As far as I know, he’s since retired and resides in Florida. Had he paid me a couple of more bucks, I’d have forgotten about him.


A type of bird, known as a dove, is often used to symbolize peace and love. The same species, however, is also referred to as a pigeon. Pigeons are well-known for their cooing and are found in many places around the world. They are usually associated with delivering messages, as seen in popular culture.

When I’m doing chores and look out the window at the empty street, I find myself imagining someone falling–myself, my child, my spouse–with no place to cling to.

 Rita Dove’s Thomas and Beulah expresses this feeling brilliantly. In her poem, she tells of a zeppelin flight with three men, one of whom loses his grip and plummets.

 She describes this man as clawing desperately at the air, though there is nothing to hold onto. This thought of desperately trying to grasp something that isn’t there is truly haunting.

And yet another man implores:


The muscles and adrenalin gave out, and the person in question tumbled down, desperately trying to grab onto something, for a total of six hundred feet.


Thomas had seen the Akron drift away without guidance and the process appeared languid to him. In the following verse, he is standing in an empty field at night, mulling over what he had just seen.


Preserved and yet fearful


That is my current state.


The image of the man reaching out in “The Zeppelin Factory” is embodied by another man standing in the stillness of a vacant lot.

 This place is seemingly immune to any kind of collapse, yet it is still not safe from visions. We are all familiar with the feeling of needing to steady ourselves in a tranquil, windless moment, even with nothing around that can hurt us- yet still.

It’s not harder to be a spectator, but it’s easy to think we are safe until it affects us or someone close to us. The notion of being unscathed is a false sense of security that we hold on to, much like the third man trying to hold on with their waning strength and energy.

Berriault One

The first Berriault edition is distinguished by its unique characteristics. It has a distinct set of features that set it apart from other versions. It is known for its one-of-a-kind qualities, making it a unique iteration of the product.

For me, there is a particular paragraph that stands out from the rest of the narrative. It has almost become a refuge of sorts.

Set in a small, dusty town in Southern California, the story by Gina Berriault takes place in the early 1940’s. The narrator, Delia, reminisces about her sixth-grade year in Miss Furguson’s class.

 Miss Furguson was about to do a Japanese tea ceremony and had selected the most beautiful girl in the class, Jolie Lotta, to help. It was thought that only the most attractive person could take part in the graceful and delicate ritual.


At the start, Miss Furguson asked everyone to appreciate the teapot, bowls, and bamboo whisk. They spent a good amount of time looking at them, and Miss Furguson made cheerful noises of admiration for the beauty of the items.


I’m not one to re-read this passage, but Berriault’s words are unforgettable. When I think of Miss Furguson and her overzealous reverence for beauty, I can’t help but chuckle; yet at the same time, I understand her sentiment

. Unfortunately, relying on aesthetics alone is usually a doomed endeavor. Who hasn’t been taken in by it, though? Just look at Jolie Lotta, with her gorgeous exterior; she discards Delia due to her lack of attractiveness and money.

The thought of Miss Furguson stopping by Delia’s house during dinner frightens her; this is the part of the story that has come to be a sort of sanctuary. Immediately following the tea ceremony, the author outlines her dread of this situation.


Should Miss Furguson ever choose to drop in on my family, something I highly doubt but feared anyway, she’d be dismayed if she arrived during supper


. Her doubts about us, which I was aware of, would be validated in an instant. While other households had mealtime as a bonding moment, each member of my family ate separately.


 A peculiar family in a dilapidated bungalow surrounded by vegetation, with curtains that were too small for the windows.

A family off-kilter, a family solitary. Any person who comes from a torn family will identify this situation. And the dread, the fright, even, that one of the Miss Furgusons of the world will find us in our natural surroundings.

 Pardon? You don’t dine together? I read this passage and, each time, I envision taking my plate of food to some vacant corner of that bungalow and eating slowly

 hearing the sound of my own fork grating my plate. In the other corner of the room, other cutlery, scuffing other dishes.

We used to dine together around a tiny, round wooden table at my house, even if it was only one of us, and our knees would usually touch.

 Although we had a much larger table in the dining room, we never ventured in there. I have written about this experience before, and I still have fond memories of our time spent at that table in a house that no longer stands

. It’s not accurate to say we write stuff out of ourselves, because all four of us are still together in spirit, dining at that cozy round table.

No matter how much we wished it could have been different, we were all stuck at the same round kitchen table on Hazel Avenue.

 We would try to make as little noise as possible while we ate, because the slightest thing could set my father off.

 It was as if he were a miniature, tomato-faced volcano. Even though our curtains fit the windows, it didn’t make any difference.

 We were all stuck in a circle, with nowhere to look to avoid the situation.

 My father, mother, brother, and I—we are still stuck in this moment, as there is no greater illusion than the idea of linear time. We eat, we drink, and we try to make it through without calling attention to ourselves.

Berriault the Second

In 1999, Gina Berriault passed away. Her story, “The Tea Ceremony,” was released in 2003 in a compilation of her uncollected writings. I believe Berriault worked hard on this story, just as she did with all of her works.

 Her paragraphs demonstrate a perceptiveness that could only be achieved by taking time to craft each sentence. In a rare interview, she discussed Gogol’s “The Overcoat” and declared:


The narrative contains an account of the destitute scrivener’s dilapidated overcoat and how the freezing wind seemed to creep in through the fabric.


 I’m not sure why I’m so moved by this depiction; it is almost as if the fabric has been worn out without him realizing until one day he is taken aback by the cold draft–doesn’t this perfectly illustrate a lifetime of experience?


This morning I am attempting to imagine that instant–only that split second–when the clerk first notices the cold. For hadn’t he been aware of the chill all along? Yes and no

. That’s the thing. It is yes, he had been sensing the cold; but it is also no, he hadn’t really noticed it.

 What is unique about that singular gust that sets it apart from all the other frigid breezes in the clerk’s life? Isn’t this what a terrific story does? It looks for that crucial, inexplicable second when everything transforms, changes completely.

In “The Tea Ceremony,” Delia’s worries about how her family would be received at a tea cause her to reflect on how each of them would be perceived.

 She imagines that her wolfish brother would be intimidating, that her timid sister wouldn’t even be offered a chair, and that her graceful mother would not be welcome due to her lack of knowledge of the proper etiquette.

 Delia’s father, whom she describes as noble, might possibly be accepted at a celestial tea ceremony in the distant future, but not now – he returns home rain-soaked and exhausted from work.

 Delia does not mention how she herself would be viewed, instead ending the paragraph with her kneeling at her mother’s feet.


I implored her to assure me that I would eventually be somebody, asking her over and over. She waved her spoon above my head and said yes, I would.


My brother probably wouldn’t have been interested in a tea ceremony

. My late father, who had an appreciation for the finer things in life, likely would have attended, albeit grumbling about something and being kicked out by the manager before he’d even had the chance to sit down. As for myself, I lacked manners then and still do

. On the other hand, my admirable mother would have felt comfortable in any tea ceremony, past or present, and if she didn’t know where to put her spoon, she would have figured something out.

The Life of Shabtai

No one desires the impossibility of bringing back the departed. No matter how much a person is adored, it’s not acceptable for them to come back after death. This doesn’t include apparitions of any kind.

In the 1930s, Uncle Lazar emigrated from Poland to Palestine, and his childhood sweetheart, Rachel, arrived three years later.

 They rekindled their romance, married and had two children. Although Lazar was a devoted Zionist in the beginning, his political beliefs eventually shifted to communism which led him to join an international brigade to defend the Republican government in Spain.

 Even though Rachel begged him not to go, he left. Later, news came that Uncle Lazar had died in battle, but then a letter arrived with an unclear postmark date, which made it uncertain if it was written before or after his date of death.

 This was followed by a period of rumors, with some speculating that he was alive and others believing he was dead. Rachel waited three years with no word before she remarried.

 Much to everyone’s surprise, Uncle Lazar had been arrested with other international volunteers for being a foreign infiltrator and spent 18 years in Siberia before being inexplicably released. When he returned to Israel, he reunited with Rachel and the children.

The story of Uncle Lazar may be an intense one in Yaakov Shabtai’s Past Continuous, but it only takes up a few pages in the novel’s four hundred.

 It is difficult to explain why this book has been a comfort to me; perhaps it is due to Shabtai’s adamant and even extreme conviction that the past and present are one.

 The idea that the past can be divided from the current moment, like an unpassable barrier, is not only false, but an affront to our experience.

 In Past Continuous, the present is the past and the past is the present, and they may exist side by side within the same sentence, divided only by a minuscule comma.

In the rain of Tel Aviv, Uncle Lazar wept. He had just come from his wife Rachel’s home. The brutality of the past melds with the present, where what has happened continues to occur.

 The get-together at Rachel’s is not even a scene, yet I still imagine it, even though days have gone by since I read it.

 Uncle Lazar stood on one side of the table, and Rachel and the two adult children on the other. Very few words were uttered, and that was the end of it

. This episode is not the core of the novel; in other books it might be. However, in Past Continuous, it is just a single moment out of a plethora of others, which would have been the point if it had been a book that made a statement, luckily it isn’t.

 The non-scene with Rachel and the offspring took up less than half a page.


When she saw him in the doorway, her first urge was to demand why he had come and tell him to leave, but his visible emotions, as well as her own curiosity and sense of propriety, stopped her from speaking. Despite this, she felt no compassion for him.


Uncle Lazar may be seen as a minor character, since he only appears for brief periods. His presence is almost ghost-like, as observed in the Hebrew version of Past Continuous which plays out over a single paragraph, like a scroll.

 My friend Tom Barbash once said, “Minor characters don’t know they’re minor.” His words are applicable to life as much as to fiction, but I ponder if Uncle Lazar is aware of his status in this case, while he faces Rachel and the children.

 Uncle Lazar reaches out to his daughter, but she pulls away. Does this mean that although minor characters are unaware of their minor role, they eventually come to realize it? Is this true of all of us, in some way?


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In the month of December 1968, two years prior to his death by suicide in the river Seine, Paul Celan wrote to his fourteen-year-old son, Eric, expressing the following:

I am delighted that you are reading. Gorky and Turgenev are both very human in their writing; Gorky conveys an authentic tone, and the issues he addresses come from genuine experience.

 Turgenev’s work is more intellectual, and perhaps more abstract, but still closely tied to human preoccupations. The world has naturally evolved since the days of Gorky and Turgenev; however, to understand them thoroughly allows us to comprehend what has changed, what has grown, and what remains though in a different guise, often dissimilar yet intrinsically the same.

It is almost unbelievably poetic that Paul Celan, whose mother was shot by the Nazis and whose father died of typhus in a camp, should be encouraging his son in 1968 to keep up with his reading of the two Russian writers, Gorky and Turgenev, who were so “naturally human.

 In spite of the fact that Celan’s faith in humanity may have been challenged, and the concept of authenticity of experience may have had darker implications for him, he still dedicated his life and work to testifying in a unique way.

 He also praised the old masters and encouraged his son to have faith in literature.

It’s difficult to reconcile the hopefulness of the letter with Celan’s passing by his own hand two years later. Nevertheless, it’s remarkable that he withstood the anguish for such an extended period of time.

Celan is frequently referred to as a hermetic poet, and I interpret this as his writing being so completely sealed up in itself–prison, as well as living organism–that it is incomprehensible to readers, such as myself, missing a secret code.

 I am not sure if this is accurate or not, but my own technique when it comes to reading Celan is to pick out a phrase or two to be mesmerized by, instead of focusing on understanding the poem in its entirety.

 These detached lines get copied into notebooks, where they have gathered and taken on their own minuscule life.


Within them was soil, and


they excavated.


Paul Celan renounced his renowned poem, “Death Fugue,” and refused to permit it to be included in any anthologies.

 It appears he felt it was too straightforward, that it strived to express what he later understood as inexpressible.

 My speculation is that as time progressed, his recollection was damaged

. Is that not so? And he could not – any longer – assemble it into a single, unified, dreadful sequence. Therefore, prior ventures, for example, “Death Fugue,” became, in a manner of speaking, deceitful. As if clearness itself turned into a wrongdoing against his actual experience.

The following two stanzas commence one of the poet’s later works:


The written words become empty, and


the spoken, of a sea-foam hue,


are aflame in the coves,


amongst the liquefied monikers,


whilst the porpoises bound.


Feeling around in the dark, I pull on the strings of the poem and begin to interpret it. I think the phrase “that which was written grows hollow” could be a reference to the author’s rejection of his past work

. On the other hand, the line “that / which was spoken” could be interpreted as “sea-green / burns in the coves.” I’m still not quite sure, but I think the burning imagery is more effective than the growing hollow one.

 Taking another stab at it, I consider the names in the poem might be his parents and other liquidized names, yet I get lost again when he talks about the porpoises…

I’m taking a break on a picnic bench next to a small pond in New Hampshire. This spot has no particular significance, but it’s about a quarter mile from Joseph Smith’s birthplace, who is known for founding the religion of Mormonism.

 It’s late August, and my two children are happily swimming, laughing and making a splash. They look like porpoises as they dive into the water and come up again with their bare backs.

I’m certain Celan didn’t intend for this to be the interpretation, but that’s what I’m perceiving from the line. Additionally, he was a father.

 I witness my children arise from the water, the same names that were liquidized now embodied in a new generation of children, jumping. The correlations might be nebulous, but that’s not the purpose.

Franz Kafka – A Prolific Writer

Kafka is a renowned writer who has produced a variety of works. His writing style has been influential and memorable, with many of his stories and novels remaining popular today.

 He has created an array of characters that have become iconic in literature, and his themes often explore the darker side of human nature. Kafka’s works are highly regarded and continue to be studied and admired.

Sitting in the dugout of a Little League field, my pup is relieving himself on home plate. The layout of baseball is a little like death in some ways. You leave from home and, depending on luck, you could make it back in time

. If not, it is a swift return to the dugout. Right in the middle, with no particular leaning towards any base, is a mound of dirt that looks like a tomb.

 None of this has anything to do with Kafka. I did come across the fact that he liked physical activities and used to exercise in the nude in front of his bedroom window

. Additionally, he wrote to his fiancee, Felice, that he did not wish to be a hermit, but rather dead. Not because he was suicidal, but because he thought it would help him concentrate.

It’s less likely to come across a great reader than a great writer in the world. We know of some of them, yet the majority keep their views to themselves.

 I would maintain that Kafka stands out from the crowd as an outstanding author and reader. His reading was just as unique as his written works. I’m referring to the reader who wrote a brief passage about Don Quixote which, when read, is a revelation.

Kafka claims that it was Sancho who was the creator of Don Quixote.


. He used the character to provide an outlet for his own emotions and also as a form of entertainment. By allowing a madman to exist in the pages of his book, Sancho was able to drive out the devil within him.

 After centuries of readers, it was only a German who read the translation and noticed what had been there all along – Sancho was the author.

 This is why the sidekick has a lesser amount of fun and is subjected to real suffering, even though the events are just a fantasy. However, Sancho is a genius because no one ever suspects that it is he who is telling the story; oftentimes, he even forgets.

 It is possible that he will be rewarded for his efforts by receiving a governorship of an island. I can envision Sancho at his desk repeating: There is no island there is an island there is no island there is an island and it will be mine.

A pure and undiluted concept was only possible to produce when the reader is wholly unencumbered by already-existing ideas.

 The additional prestige of Kafka’s work is that it was written with no intention of persuasion.

 He was merely chatting with the walls at late night, aware of the fact that he would have to return to the Workers’ Accident Insurance Institute for the Kingdom of Bohemia soon.

 This explains why he conjured up Sancho imagining Quixote in his mind.

Max Brod was responsible for giving this work the name, “The Truth about Sancho Panza”, which was released after his passing

. We are thankful for this. Nevertheless, the title can be misleading, as if it was unveiling something hidden. The reality is that fiction does not require any sort of truth. Moreover, Sancho himself does not want to be in the spotlight.

This vacant diamond may be characterized by the dull, short-heighted grass or the plain-looking tombstones, such as those found in Orthodox graveyards that don’t allow decorations – no flowers, no signs of happiness.

 It reminds me of my aunt Pauline’s resting place in the northwest corner of Chicago.

 I think of all the ordinary readers who have passed away, readers such as you and me, who might take a few seconds to reflect upon something they have just read before they move on with the book.

 What if these fleeting moments of contemplation don’t vanish? What if they stay in the air? Maybe when an idea pops into our heads without any warning, it is one of these detached snippets of thought.

 If the musings of one person are similar to energy, then it is likely that they don’t just disappear, but they are changed into something else – what could that be?

Doris’ Name

He went around the group of us, greeting each person in turn and expressing appreciation for our presence. “Thank you,” he kept repeating.

 A few of the people, not including me, had brought food, which was a good thing so that he didn’t have to provide for everyone. Stacy Doris had been a colleague of ours, a talented poet who wrote in both English and French.

 She had a subtle way of incorporating her French background into her life without flaunting it. She also had a great sense of humour. Her demise had not been sudden; she had been ill for a while and was just about to turn fifty.

He stood in the doorway, greeting us warmly and hospitably. He was gaunt, as if a part of him had been removed. His poetic work had been a labor of love, as he attended to his partner through the months of her decline.

 Yet, even during such a difficult time, he was still actively working, this time to welcome us into his home.

We gorged ourselves as a way to pass the time.

 We talked about the dean’s antics, shared stories, and laughed.

 However, when we remembered that we were supposed to be professors at the Creative Writing Department of San Francisco State, we were so embarrassed that we put our hands over our mouths. It always seemed funny to us that we were professors–Us? Professors?.

The only positive feature of our being there might have been our speech which filled the room. She was a gifted conversationalist.

 At faculty gatherings, she would converse and even if her points strayed, she was never tedious. It was unusual to have someone who, when they spoke at faculty conferences, you didn’t dread it.

At the beginning of the new millennium, we often gathered in the Poetry Center located on the fifth story of an allegedly quake-proof building. 

One day, while sitting around the conference table, the whole building suddenly began to sway. Someone, possibly Stacy, jokingly asked, “Would anyone like to dance?”

Stacy Doris was the name of the poet. Although a mere few lines from “Knot iii.VII” can hardly do the poem justice, they can offer a hint at the tremendous strength of her writing:


If we could sustain ourselves, it could possibly eradicate all hunger…


…And the law would be irrelevant…


Life would no longer be necessary to keep on…


No help can be given to prevent it.


Doris’s work is something I keep close, especially Conference , which is one of the most bizarre and hard to categorize books I’m aware of. There is an assembly of perplexing voices which may or may not be birds. I’m not insisting that I comprehend it; all I am saying is that this book gives me a certain uneasy solace. It is as wild, as baffling, as stimulating, and sometimes, yes, as observant as life itself, and it has so many remarkable lines such as this:


Again and again, those who are not annihilated are destined to return to their place of origin…


I had the pleasure of working with her and enjoyed it. I believe she felt the same way. We served together on a subcommittee that focused on circular requirements, and we both advocated for them to be more lenient.

 We were in agreement that the rigorous circular requirements should be relaxed.

I cannot help but recall Chet Weiner, a poet in his own right, as he lingered in the doorway of his abode in the Outer Sunset district of the Avenues district. He thanked us, though the realization of the reality of his wife’s departure had to be faced that night.

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