The Brooklyn Rail

SEPT 2017

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SEPT 2017 Issue

from Madame Bildungsroman's Optimistic Worldview



Translation from that language in my brain I don’t speak

Why is it worse, youth buried in an old face than age in a young one? It’s the unknown again, our total dependence on what comes next. But the truth, which is not said and not known, rattles on, behind the action. We cover the grave so well. Our destination’s the biggest bluff of all.





What does fighting do to you?
Why do you think it’s weakness that keeps me from fighting?
I don’t like to feel hate.




Surprise Ending My Ass

All the beginnings and middles and ends we import from stories and graft onto our lives. Why do we dwell on the moments that take us away from what’s plain as day—there is no narrative like that here. But art will go on cooking it up and we will swallow it whole.

When I was a girl they said they told stories so that I could never forget all the bad things we are capable of, and so that I would understand the importance of love.




Take Me to Your Leader

The way you see it you can experience the heady emotion of the moment, or not. Then you die. Exploring what you might learn about yourself by observing these emotions ‐ because for you thought is not only not emotional, but cancels out emotions ‐ is a total downer and waste of time. You’re utterly convinced; whatever you’re unfortunate enough to learn by accident will never come up again.




How Much for Your World View

City Daughter.

One of those bad days when all half-open shutters show vases of dusty fake flowers, and green striped wallpaper, and corners of polished end tables that seem no less important than glimpses of the unknown universe, dark matter… These rooms I see from the crappy, rainy streets urge an awful, deep relentless need to be someone else. Different loves, jobs, children.

What is your life, what’s in your room, what do you know for sure?




If Sleep Was the Invention of a Science Fiction Author We’d All Think it Was Absolutely Fucking Brilliant

For a few days I thought about a little gun that had appeared in an unfinished story I wrote about twenty years ago.

This morning I kept seeing a little knife, a mini machete, and with its hook I imagined tracing the rhombus I’d cut to remove my heart.

My brother had a dream when he was young that a robin flew into his chest and that his ribs opened like a book and inside was a classroom with people with oranges for heads standing in front of a blackboard. Or maybe I am misremembering that.

In this kitchen everything is made out of squares.

At the gene clinic the lady took a long family history, and made a family tree where the women were circles and the men were squares. If they had cancer they got a messy black dot in them.

Why are light fixtures round and cupboards square? I love convention. I live for convention.




The Bell was Also Tolling

I wish to God I could remember if it was the seagull eating the crow or the crow eating the seagull. That sums me up. Why the hell can’t I remember the
detail humans value most: who did what to whom. These two were at the top of a wide, dark, curvy, and steep flight of church stepts in Dundee. It was pishin’ doon. A few people passed. The guts were open like a book, the size of both my palms. The wound was red as only wet red can be. Ruby slippers. The scavenger was struggling with some very long, stringy bits.




Bronx Science

I felt so alone at my desk and the ceiling light was too bright. The articles I’d read and ripped from Scientific American went in one file folder in the stiff drawer. I’d watched too much TV and fun and love was all very far from blood types, cow ventricles, graphs demanding immense patience and damaged by empathy. I moved out into the day, drunk, because I was bored senseless the instant I arrived. And I remain there. My boredom has taken on fantastical hues. I hallucinate.





When we were young there were more boxes and crates with FRAGILE stickers on them; giant video cameras packed tight in grey foam, synthesisers in wooden trunks. You could sit on them on the corner or the subway platform. Am I alone in not wanting everything shrunk as small as possible? Where is everything?





I was looking at my daughter’s teeth in the dentist’s chair. The dentist said they were great. My attachment to my daughter and to her teeth was so strong. I love her teeth. I thought about a parent on that flight that got shot down in the Ukraine, loving their child’s perfect teeth. And then of course all the gory details of the news story… identifying remains.
I mention this because I try not to name that kind of overpowering, visceral attachment, though now that I write it I think that’s pretty silly of me, because I feel it all the time, so who cares if I name it or not? Maybe dwelling with it in its unnamed state seems safer; it’s like a dream. I read somewhere recently that dreams were like stories. Not mine. My dreams are about places. The action is a marble in one of those vertical mazes, or water filling up a tub. How to deal with the place. That’s my job in my dreams.
It made me think about vegetarianism, the teeth. And about how attached most animals are to their lives, and the lives of their loved ones. Humans who purport to be far along the spiritual path extol non-attachment as the highest spiritual achievement, while at the same time urging us to respect another’s attachment to being alive.




Nora Chassler

Nora Chassler grew up in NYC and lives in Edinburgh, Scotland. She has published two novels and is working on a third.


The Brooklyn Rail

SEPT 2017

All Issues