At an artists’ collective near the Polish border about an hour from Berlin, I’d been taking a break from translating texts into English, a task I once enjoyed but was beginning to resent, as I was beginning to feel invisible—or was it burnt out?—in any case, I was glad to get away for a few days: it was my first vacation since I-don’t-know-when, and I’d begun to feel my soul was spent. Over lunch on my last day there, a woman from Seoul who went by the nickname Hae—a transliteration of the word “sun” in Korean, she said—asked what the word in German was for “soul.” Actually, the woman sitting next to her asked, but the woman sitting next to Hae came from Spain and was shy about her English, so when she directed the question at me I heard the word as “sol”—we’d spent the week speaking both Spanish and English—and said, in reply, “Sonne.”
The first time Ellis saw the girl, she was sitting on the front stoop of his building. She had a mop in one hand and a broom in the other, like she was using them to guard the place. The packages of Charmin stacked beside her looked like they were at attention too. She can’t be more than five or six, thought Ellis. And instead of climbing the stairs and passing her to let himself inside, he stopped, took off his Yankees cap, and with a smile said, Hiya. Hey kid. Hello there.
The girl did as he expected and gaped at the wine-spill of a birthmark on the left half of his face. She sniffed her runny nose up and blinked through her too-long bangs. Her mouth made a little frown and she said, Hi. My mom forgot the Windex.
A young child, I was privy to hearing this word in my household, around my uncle and his friends reminiscent of his schoolboy youth. A part of a pidgin I could never participate in for fear that the broken English might have too much of an essence, might tarnish my own English. They would not let me code switch thinking the pidgin would overtake me
My friend with the brain tumor—a grisly glioma
Surgeons can’t get to the bottom of—that on one side
Of his head presses transmitters on the other, hears
A constant, streaming waterwheel of voices and music,
Slopping pails drawn up from who knows where
Each of us has reservoired it all—the dreamhorde,
The broadcasts, bunny hops, back seat schmoozing,
Nixon’s re-election bid, Little Richard’s “Tutti Frutti,”
Cheap café tunes with dummy lyrics, traffic reports,