FROM THIS SEASON'S ISSUE: Commencement 2014

First Aid

I have in my hands a textbook on post-atomic birth defects in Japan. The Effects of Ionizing Ra- diation From the Atomic Bomb on the Bodies of Japanese Children by R.W. Miller, M.D., Univer- sity of California Press, 1968, is a volume that I cannot, in good conscience, recommend. In black and white photographs, it portrays many variations of our species’ form. For example, here is a little girl who is perhaps three years old. She is wearing a dark striped dress and has her hair untied. The two sides of her face do not meet as you’d expect. Her eyes are far apart, and under each is a nos- tril. She has no nose, only a fleshy nowhere, an inch or two wide, that comes down smoothly from the forehead. You may be relieved to know that at least this child is not mentally deficient, as many of the children depicted in The Effects of Ionizing Radiation From the Atomic Bomb on the Bodies of Japanese Children are. “Intelligence: Normal,” says the caption. But then again, you realize, why should that come as a relief?

Ukrainian Identity and Mykola Kulish’s Sonata Pathétique

Mykola Kulish, Ukraine’s most famous 20th-century playwright, was known for his formal experimentation and dismissal of contemporary conceits. He was also among many Ukrainian writers forced to couch any reference to Ukrainian national identity in a teleology of socialist revolution, culminating, inevitably, in a Bolshevik victory. Kulish was able to find loopholes in devices of characterization, setting, and allusion all the same. In Kulish’s 1930 play, Sonata Pathétique, neither Soviet triumph nor pure Ukrainian nationalism is fully exempt from satire, as Kulish pokes fun at the national cult of Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko, widely considered to be the founder of modern Ukrainian literature and language. The work is centered around the conflicts between Ukrainian and Russian forces following the 1917 Russian Revolution.

The Letter

I was nine years old when Wairimu, seventeen at the time, left the letter to our parents on the coffee table so that it was the first thing you saw as soon as you had entered the house. It was Easter weekend, so nobody saw it until Saturday morning when we returned from Good Friday overnight prayers at church, by which time Wairimu had filled a bag with her clothes, stolen the money kept in the kitchen for daily purchases and made her escape. Even at that age I knew that it was a stupid decision.

Notes From
21 South Street

Twilight of the Libraries

In a famous episode of the television show, The Twilight Zone, Henry Bemis, “a bookish little man whose passion is the printed page but who is conspired against by…a world full of tongue-cluckers and the unrelenting hands of the clock,” miraculously survives a nuclear blast. The lone survivor, he despairs until he discovers that the entire book collection of the public library has been saved as well. Finally, the bibliophile can truly pursue his passion, uninterrupted by anything or anyone, with, as he declares “all the time I need, and all the time I want.” However, after arranging all of the books that he intends to read into perfectly ordered stacks, and situating himself on the steps of the library to begin his literary fete, his glasses slip from his nose and shatter on the stone.


Just Say No

I’m here to answer questions about men’s urinals, not about heroin addiction. That’s what I should have said. I should have said that, and put a ‘sir’ at the end, and then cut the call off, or referred it to my supervisor. And then I should have gone back to wait for the next blinking light on my screen to ask about replacement flushometers for our discontinued wall-hung models.