<< whatnots << cover

Whatnots by
Marcus Speh

Recitations by Author
Art by Gene Tanta



Art by Gene TantaI am among the many most definitely and most certainly: me. Definite: because I know where I begin though not where I will end. Certain: because of the many that have told me that I am, some more some less kindly.

In these two attributes, I am not complete. Two’s a tiny number. Cicero said you should always have three arguments, never just two. It is well known that the Romans relied on legions, not pairs or threesomes. Hence it may happen that you begin with three attributes - say, "cute, adorable, likable", or "hairy, large, rosy", or "difficult, rambunctious, ferruginous" - and these three designators become the core of a legion of things others say about you or you say about yourself. It may then be hard to get away from your initial set of imputations.

Note on grammar: the adjective is a legionnaire with a tactical syntactic role - to modify a noun or pronoun and to gather and pass on information about the noun or the pronoun's referent like an agile undercover agent. It is a spy from an un-noun land with a bag pack full of explosives, an assassin to beware of lest you forget to ignite your innuendo.

I liked my first two adjectives – definite and certain – but I insisted on the third attribute as not being an adjective but a personal pronoun: me. My other belongings – people, personalities, human reference points, who stood by, pars pro toto, when I appeared on the scene, were (not necessarily in this order):

... My mother, who carried my me and made me definite, who taught me the letters and how to tie my shoelaces (this being the first and not last of a long line of eagerly anticipated ambitions).

… My father who struck his spark and made me certain, who had a belly of sardonic laughter and a bag full of stories from his travels to the moon where I was permitted to follow him provided I took my vitamins.

... My sister, who was not me but near me and most definite and certain, too. Older but smaller in size, a mistress of many tongues and with the will of a platoon of soldiers buried in the jolly jungles.

... A bunch of ancestral persons who planted themselves around the land as only families do, dotted across the alluvion, and in my case most definitely and certainly attached to the big cities where they dwelled in not uncertain contempt for anything country-like that smelled of manure and the manifold of uncontrollable animals and their indefinite habits: rabbits, sheep, pigs (assumed to have wisdom beyond their bacon), dogs (dirty, doggedly so). And only cats (via my father's inclination towards their fierce independence) and horses (via my mother's affection for the creatures' affable grace) were somewhat exempted from the righteous credo of the urbanites: they found beauty in the roof lines of skyscraping buildings and thought chimneys a clear sign of composure, civilisation and culture.

Later I acquired an ickle cluster of friends tarted up as if for a Venetian fancy-ball with the masks of: the ambassador, the lion, the duchess.

There was a red-headed courtesan who followed me around visiting my fantasy life, leaving her dirty droppings as clues, a sex goddess, whom I never touched but always imagined, robed as a brigand's daughter, with a flirty feather in her tricorny hair.

I also had a wife to call mine when I feared to lose my fire in the stormiest storm and who soothsayed my successes from laverbread. We had a child, who was her own from her first moment flopping like a fish on a table top, a girl of greyish temper with thistle green eyes.

This is how any account of anybody's dingy beginnings should enter employment: by listing the invididual's attributes and those whose affections attended his entry into this whole world of wonders.




I have at the soul level only ever known five women if you don’t count my mother: a German, a Persian, an Argentinian, an Italian and an American. Now I will talk about them and say what must be said.

Today I will talk about the German woman.

This woman is in a way the most difficult one to talk about because she was my first, and because it was a long time ago and because there is still guilt. Then again, guilt comes with every one of these women and perhaps that’s what makes them worth remembering, perhaps that’s why I hold them dear in my heart.

Her name was Penelope.

She was two years older than I, freckled and pale, her hair toying with red without real commitment. She played the guitar and sang like a lady of courtly demeanour. She did not take me seriously at first. I sat at her feet: an invisible worshipper before a diva, one of a number of young males, all of us unattractive in our own manner and unsure of ourselves, in particular of our maleness, which hung on us like a new uncomfortable coat, always the same coat in any weather, hot or cold, but we were stuck with it and we believed, with the faces of our fathers fused to our clumsy frames, that it would, one day, hopefully soon, fit us and feel right, no matter what temperature.

The remenant of the tale is long ynough.

Throughout one of those overheated summers Penelope sang herself into my heart. Day by day, there were less men shuffling nervously around her. Eventually they receded and became part of her audience so that she could see me as a man who wanted her and whom she wanted.

Graffitti luv.

Around that time a mishap befell her and she broke her ankle so that she had to walk around in a cast. When we made love for the first time, this severely limited our acrobatic aspirations but made the moment more memorable. The cast was soon covered with graffiti, which was artistically most promising.

Moment of truth.

As I said, I had never been with a woman in this way before and I went for it like a starved dog for the bone and I didn’t think about taking proper precautions, which in those days long gone involved carrying and using a condom: it simply had not occurred to me. Neither had it occurred to her until after the miracle moment was gone. (Dear reader! It is difficult to write about what actually happened – I must leave it to others, braver ones, to serve you the juicy detail.)

Have mercy on oure wo and oure distresse!

I recall that we sat together afterwards at candlelight (big in those days and perhaps still where hippies live) and it suddenly dawned on both of us that we might have created a person by melting into each other. I remember the shocked expression in her eyes and my surprise at that. It made me see then and there the difference between the depth of our love for one another, though I didn’t realise it yet and I still don’t want to believe it.

Of the bodies, and the grete honour.

Her mound seemed to me as wide as the Bosporus, filled with Earthly delights, and for the first time I felt powers that I could not harness. Like a ship leaving the wharf after a long build, after endless dreaming of limitless horizons and the swelling seas. Like knowing that falling and letting yourself fall is a little death and only one of many, many little deaths to come, and yet the fall is so sweet and the ground seems so near, so near.

Shortly for to telle is myn entente.

Penelope and I parted ways soon after when she moved to the South. Got together again briefly, years later, upon which I managed to expertly break her heart with the chivalrous brutality that I had acquired in the meantime, the time that I needed to come into my might, which Penelope had shared with me as her gift.




Oh Y am I lacking inspiration? I still see sunsets, still get annoyed in the twice daily traffic jams, car against car, cavalcades of lovers waiting and bicyclists cruising gaily — what's missing?

Friendship is nothing to me — brotherhood everything. There are a few men who earned my attention and I theirs. We carry each other around in our breast pockets, the pockets of men over male chests thickly covered with goat hair. We eat smelly cheese and sausage on rye and stamp our hooves. We harvest the time left to us, we multiply it by thousand, and we return it wearily. We will be remembered for our courage, for braving the merciless clockwork of modernity. We take words like this, prune them and turn them into French: ‘a la modernité’. We split nouns where it pleases us: we are modern men. My friends and I wear our hair white and long (but no pony tail, please): we drink the finest tippy golden flowery orange pekoe without erosion of manhood.

I am a Joycean today, I rub my eye patch with glee and I read mysterious lines in the paper: “Famous Critic Smashed by Giant Potato Peeler”. “Dublin Elected World Capital of Bunburyism”. “Firecracker Discovered Under Pope's Throne” — there is enough drama in this world to fill all papers and all blogs of millenia to come.

I am a wild man, a beest with telescopic tweezers for fingers: I reach down into the drains and pick up your keys where you lost them: then I follow you home. I open your door behind you, looking everywhere, dropping my eyeballs all over the bookcases to see what you're reading: I measure the dust weighing on your mind with a scale made of cricket legs.

Let us rejoice: “Is there one who understands me?”

What's missing? I can still taste water like wine. Still smell my woman: the place between her breasts is my fountain of youth. Still bicker carrying a bread basket with false teeth. I still get laid like a man, my moisture settling on her bare bush.

I am Y and if you can say my name, you're Y, too and you must follow me swiftly where I live: in the underbrush of your yearning.



Marcus SpehMarcus Speh lives in Berlin, Germany. He is the indefatigable curator of the one thousand shipwrecked penguin project, serves as maitre d' of the artist's collective kaffe in katmandu, supports gastarbeit on Nothing to Flawnt and finds it increasingly difficult to distinguish between fiction, non-fiction and translatology. He can fit several multi-lingual madmen under his personal mad hat and is so chuffed to be here that he has temporarily turned into a microscopic black hole, a minute, cosmicomical pimple of infinite volume and energy.


Gene Tanta, Art DirectorGene Tanta, Art Director. Gene Tanta was born in Timisoara, Romania and lived there until 1984, when his family immigrated to the United States. Since then, he has lived in DeKalb, Iowa City, New York, Oaxaca City, Iasi, Milwaukee, and Chicago. He is a poet, visual artist, and translator of contemporary Romanian poetry. His two poetry books are Unusual Woods and Pastoral Emergency. Tanta earned his MFA in Poetry from the Iowa's Writers' Workshop in 2000 and his PhD in English from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 2009 with literary specialization in twentieth-century American poetry and the European avant-garde. His journal publications include: EPOCH, Ploughshares, Circumference Magazine, Exquisite Corpse, Watchword, Columbia Poetry Review, and The Laurel Review. Tanta has had two collaborative poems with Reginald Shepherd anthologized in Saints of Hysteria: A Half-Century of Collaborative American Poetry. Most recently, he has chaired a panel at the 2010 AWP titled, “Immigrant Poetry: Aesthetics of Displacement”. Currently, he is working on two anthologies while teaching post-graduate creative writing online for UC Berkeley Extension.


to top

spacer   spacer