haven’t got a cross

March 30, 2020

‘You aren’t going to wave a cross at me?’

John shook his head. ‘No. I haven’t got a cross.’

The vampire seemed a little happier, for he ceased to tremble, though he continued to watch John with a wary eye.

‘You’re sure? Everyone I’ve met in the past hundred and fifty years has either waved a cross at me, or smothered me with garlic flowers, or – worst of all – tried to drive a stake through my heart. Everyone is rotten and mean – all because I have the misfortune to be a vampire.’

R. Chetwynd-Hayes
The Sad Vampire

Auschwitz

March 29, 2020

Just as you enter, over the door
There’s a sign that you can see
Though it’s written in German
It means ‘Work Makes You Free’
When we were small kids
We were told all about hell
But the inmates of this place
Knew it only too well
The starvation and torture
That was carried on here
The hangings and shootings
And the beatings so severe
When you had to strip naked
There was absolutely no hope
Your hands tied behind your back
As you faced the hanging rope
After hanging for a while
You were then taken down
Hosed with freezing water
Till you thought you would drown
While you were still alive
You were put up against the wall
The Gestapo called the order
‘Shoot them dead, one and all’
After more than one and a half years
They couldn’t kill them fast enough
So they built some gas chambers
With the Zyklon B deadly stuff
No matter how hard they worked
Or how hard they tried
Only about four or five hundred!
Poor innocent people, everyday died
So they built more gas chambers
About six kilometers away
And then they were killing
Four to five thousand every day
The commander in charge
Was a man named Rudolf Hoss
When he finally got hanged
Himself, he was a small loss

Kommadant Rudolf Hoss (sometimes spelt Hoess) was a mild-mannered family man, married with 5 children (2 sons & 3 daughters). He lived with his wife and children within the confines of Auschwitz where he could see the crematoria chimney stacks from his bedroom window.
He was the greatest mass-murderer in human history, by his own irrefutable admissions, during his trial in April 1947.

He denied murdering 3 million people, but admitted killing only 2.5 million! and said the rest died of starvation.

Under his command Auschwitz had the capacity to exterminate 10,000 people each 24 hours!
He was hanged in Auschwitz on 16th April 1947 only a few short metres from where he lived with his family, while he was the architect of evil and madness all around, the likes of which mankind had never seen before.

Up to 12 people used to be hanged naked simultaneously on each iron gallows (like the goalposts in a soccer field) close to the entrance gates. The adjoining forest at the edge of Birkenau or Auschwitz 2, which is a much larger camp than Auschwitz 1 is inhabited by snakes but no birds are to be seen here, over this vast area, where millions died.

Daniel Sammon

Nothing as strange as folks…

Lady Lazarus

March 28, 2020

…the cruellest blow comes when Plath discovers the poems that Hughes has been writing to his lover, and is unable to prevent herself from acknowledging their artistry. “Many are fine poems,” she writes to Beuscher on September 29, 1962. “Absolute impassioned love poems.” She quotes a line she cannot forget: Now I have hacked the octopus off my ring finger.

Which sounds more like one of the lines she was beginning to write, because Plath in her last weeks, in the cold London house, between sleeping pills and crying babies and an unrelenting flu, was being gripped and twisted by the wild poems that became the book Ariel. “It is like writing in a train tunnel, or God’s intestine,” she writes to the Anglo-Irish poet Richard Murphy. (“Lady Lazarus”: Out of the ash / I rise with my red hair / And I eat men like air.) It all feels so unsteady, so precarious, so barely controlled. Was Ariel a breakdown, or an artistic consummation? Both, obviously. The great big chomping Ariel voice is intoxicated with its own power; it glitters and it damns.

The telling and retelling of this story will not end soon, because at the core of the Plath/Hughes nexus, the marriage of their talents, is a mythically compelling irony. He, full of agency, honouring his deep drives, etc., etc., does the boring thing: He has an affair. She, trapped and reduced and overwhelmed, does the remarkable thing: She writes a masterpiece. He, formerly the main character, exits shabbily sideways, while she explodes into an agony of authenticity. And then — hand in hand with winter, fever, and heartbreak — it kills her.

James Parker
The Haunting Last Letters of Sylvia Plath

communion with the dead

March 28, 2020

So, here I sit in the midst of a mid-life crisis, isolated, horribly sober, with little to do except perhaps attempt communion with the dead? It didn’t go well last time I tried that. But what the hell – with such a paucity of activity, one should take risks! Settle back for some ghoulish rituals, boys & girls – either that or take the cat for a walk round the garden again?

In the year 1885, when I was a schoolboy, we went for our summer holiday to a furnished house between Ventnor and Bonchurch on the Isle of Wight. St Boniface House was modest, possessing one of the most charming small gardens I ever saw.

Ghosts soon declared themselves. The manifestations were pronounced and various. My sisters were visited in the night by a figure walking in their room and, when it came between their beds, they fled shrieking.

A figure passed the housemaids in the corridor, cold hands were laid on hands lying outside the counterpane, bells rang without being pulled.

The village priest came with book and holy water, the spirits were effectually laid and we slept in peace.

Now I have read, in Mrs Stirling’s The Diaries of Dummer (1934), an account of similar manifestations at the same house in 1851. The old house has been pulled down, but I hope its garden still shelters the poor houseless shades that wander by night.

W.S.J.
Country Life, letters page 13th March 1937

At last the revenants became so troublesome the peasants abandoned the village and it fell solely into the possession of subtle and vindictive inhabitants who manifest their presences by shadows that fall almost imperceptibly awry, too many shadows, even at midday, shadows that have no source in anything visible; by the sound, sometimes, of sobbing in a derelict bedroom where a cracked mirror suspended from a wall does not reflect a presence; by a sense of unease that will afflict the traveller unwise enough to pause to drink from the fountain in the square that still gushes spring water from a faucet stuck in a stone lion’s mouth. A cat prowls in a weedy garden; he grins and spits, arches his back, bounces away from an intangible on four fear-stiffened legs. Now all shun the village below the chateau in which the beautiful somnambulist helplessly perpetuates her ancestral crimes.

Wearing an antique bridal gown, the beautiful queen of the vampires sits all alone in her dark, high house under the eyes of the portraits of her demented and atrocious ancestors, each one of whom, through her, projects a baleful posthumous existence; she counts out the Tarot cards, ceaselessly construing a constellation of possibilities as if the random fall of the cards on the red plush tablecloth before her could precipitate her from her chill, shuttered room into a country of perpetual summer and obliterate the perennial sadness of a girl who is both death and the maiden.

Her voice is filled with distant sonorities, like reverberations in a cave: now you are at the place of annihilation, now you are at the place of annihilation. And she is herself a cave full of echoes, she is a system of repetitions, she is a closed circuit.’ Can a bird sing only the song it knows or can it learn a new song?’ She draws her long, sharp fingernail across the bars of the cage in which her pet lark sings, striking a plangent twang like that of the plucked heartstrings of a woman of metal. Her hair falls down like tears.

The castle is mostly given over to ghostly occupants but she herself has her own suite of drawing room and bedroom. Closely barred shutters and heavy velvet curtains keep out every leak of natural light. There is a round table on a single leg covered with a red plush cloth on which she lays out her inevitable Tarot; this room is never more than faintly illuminated by a heavily shaded lamp on the mantelpiece and the dark red figured wallpaper is obscurely, distressingly patterned by the rain that drives in through the neglected roof and leaves behind it random areas of staining, ominous marks like those left on the sheets by dead lovers. Depredations of rot and fungus everywhere. The unlit chandelier is so heavy with dust the individual prisms no longer show any shapes; industrious spiders have woven canopies in the corners of this ornate and rotting place, have trapped the porcelain vases on the mantelpiece in soft grey nets. But the mistress of all this disintegration notices nothing.

Angela Carter
The Lady of the House of Love

He’s almost weightless. When he enters me it hurts and my pain belongs to the subterranean world, primitive as the clay. His body is slacker than I expected, a small paunch begins at his waist and settles in a downward parabola to his groin. His pubic hair is red. His erect penis is a surprise although I had imagined what they would feel like, read about them, seen them represented on toilet walls and magazines. I didn’t see it before he entered me, but afterwards it is small and sticky and amusing. I want to touch it but I don’t dare. I don’t know the etiquette. He is twenty or more years older than me. This is sex.

William Wall
Grace’s Day