G. C. Waldrep
The Last Accordion in Bälbeck
We kept it in a glass case in the municipal palace until the war came. Then bombs from the war shattered the case. So we had a handsome casket made for it, of rosewood and plush velvet. But the casket was crushed one June afternoon by debris hurtling from the apartment towers. By then, the accordion was nearly always in use anyway, for weddings and for funerals, but chiefly for graduations. Each month the students seemed to graduate earlier and earlier. The ceremonies were held at dawn, in groves of hazel trees on the outskirts of the city, where the activity was less visible to the Enemy and less subject to strafing. Soon the graduations were taking place daily. Many children graduated more than once, and some were never seen again. In what was left of the cathedral square we passed the accordion among ourselves—clandestinely, as if we had become spies in our own neighborhoods. It became a kind of joke, wondering who would be holding the accordion when the city fell.
The Angel of the Letter Q
The elk carvers stand on platforms of steel, proudly displaying their instruments. Behind them flights of stairs lead up and into the library. Steam from the fumaroles obscures the windows. The sky wriggles like a principle caught on the horns of a dilemma and then slides cleanly away. It is the most imaginary of self-inflicted wounds. Like an alphabet the instruments of the elk carvers form concentric circles, at the center of which pulse almost infinitesimal shards of beach glass and porphyry. Each elk carver reaches into an instrument—his own or his neighbor’s—with his bare hand and removes a single, glistening bead of blood. The gaunt figures of elk can be seen, faintly, at the library windows. In the time it takes each bead of blood to dry, the elk carvers will have chosen one of their number to mount the stairs, which are dripping with moisture. Villagers throng the bases of the platforms wearing musky garlands of asbestos, pork, and myrrh. Each carries a vial containing a derivative sky, which at low doses may be used as physic. No chanting is allowed in the library itself, but from the carvers on the platforms comes a low tonal hum. An angel crouches in the shadow of the library, beneath the flights of stairs. He is cold and hungry. His wings are matted, his robes torn. The walls of the library reach out to him like the choiry Palmyras of drowned barques, but he brushes them away. He trains his camera upward.
G.C. Waldrep’s collections are Goldbeater’s Skin (Colorado Prize, 2003), Disclamor (BOA Editions, 2007), and Archicembalo, which won the 2008 Dorset Prize and is due out from Tupelo Press in April 2009. He lives in Lewisburg, Pa., and teaches at Bucknell University.