The Nightingales of Wilde and Hafez

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Oscar Wilde had the collected works of Hafez in his prison library. Hafez, the fourteenth-century Persian poet who wrote ghazals about ecstasy, faith, and love, whether carnal or spiritual. But what did Wilde learn from Hafez?

In “The Rose and the Nightingale,” Wilde tells the story of a philosophy student who wants to give his beloved a red rose, but there are no red roses in his garden. The nightingale begs a tree to give the student a rose, but the tree replies that there is only one way it can produce a red rose: the nightingale must sing all night with her breast against a thorn so that her blood flows into the tree. Ultimately, her sacrifice is in vain. The beloved spurns the gift. The student, who was never a true lover, tosses the rose into the street. The only lover in the story was the nightingale, and she is now dead.

Wilde must have come across numerous references to nightingales and roses in Hafez’s poetry. In Persian tradition, the nightingale takes the rose as his beloved and sings to her. In Farid ud-Din Attar’s masterpiece, The Conference of the Birds, the nightingale initially refuses to leave his rose to seek the Simorgh. A ghazal in Hafez’s Divan begins with a nightingale nourishing a rose with his blood (though this poem’s translation says “his,” the Persian pronoun has no gender). Other ghazals by Hafez portray the nightingale as the quintessential lover. Did Wilde, like so many others, weep at these verses?

The beloved of the nightingale is not named in Wilde’s story; we know only that she sings of love. She wrongly assumes the student has the same capacity for love that she does. For her, love is more important than life, and she gives her life so that the student’s love can be fulfilled. It is a mercy that she never learns that her sacrifice was in vain. Wilde’s nightingale story, while exquisite, is cynical compared to those of Hafez. That could have been the result of persecution in his life or his sardonic personality.

A subspecies of nightingale that is common in Iran is called Luscinia megarhynchos hafizi. Were these birds named after the poet who described them with such love and delicacy? (I have not found the answer so far, but I hope to one day.) This subspecies is also called Luscinia megarhynchos golzii. Gol is the Persian word for flower or, more specifically, rose. Just a coincidence, or are lover and beloved united at last?

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Braided Essay (Still Unnamed)

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I’ve been working on a rather long braided essay, the pieces of which are tied together by the topic of music. I won’t post much of it here because I want to publish it elsewhere, but I wanted to provide a taste: here are a few paragraphs from two different sections of the essay.

(From a section set in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina)

Behind me, a woman fills her bottle from a spout on the stone-roofed fountain. Closer to the Adriatic Sea, Mostar is hotter than Sarajevo and the fresh, cool water, available to everyone, is most appreciated. Next to the fountain stand medieval tombstones, some with round turbans carved onto them. The dead are never far. Flashes of hot pink, orange, and red billow behind the tombstones, next to the mausoleum. The souvenir shop sells pictures, tapestries, and clothing, including belly-dancing costumes—evidently for tourists who assume that every country with Muslims also has belly dancers.

(From a section set in Córdoba, Spain)

The smooth claws of a curious pigeon grip my hand as I gaze on the earth-colored and white walls below. Water cascades down the fountain, joining the bubbling pool with a crash. The wind picks up and a stream of water splashes onto the concrete, spraying my face; the pigeon flies away. I stand and look around. Palms and orange trees line the streets and courtyards.

Walking through the streets, I see, smell, and hear the traces of Ziryab, the architect of Andalusian culture. Sweet-smelling cafes and restaurants where meals begin with soup. Honeyed desserts of walnuts and sesame. A couple playing chess by a reflecting pool.

Words Unsaid

I wrote this last year. It is loosely autobiographical: the party happened, but we left immediately and there was no conversation. The thoughts are mine.

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Words Unsaid

I am late. Mother of the year. But when I found out about the preschool Christmas party for parents—and they specifically said “maminky”—it was too late to change my work schedule. So, I am the last mom here. The school is packed, and I don’t like crowds. I feel boxed-in. How long should I stay? Is half an hour enough to be polite? I have chocolate chip cookies. I put them down next to all the intricate Czech Christmas cookies.

Drinking that Coke Zero was a bad idea—caffeine always makes me nervous. So does skipping lunch. The teachers and children have prepared a program for us. All the children come out and line up, singing and playing instruments. Well, except for my kid. She immediately ran off and hid behind me. She doesn’t like crowds either.

I should talk to someone. My Czech is basic, but I don’t like forcing people to speak English with me. Do I look aloof? I’ve been told a few times that I look aloof. I’m not aloof; I’m uptight. I’d really prefer to talk to one of the teachers, but they’re swamped. The mom in the red shirt looks friendly; maybe I should go talk to her.

I say dobrý den and introduce myself. I was right; she is friendly.

“This party is nice,” I continue. “They decorated well.” You doofus! Couldn’t you think of anything better to say?

“Yes, they did,” Red Shirt (Crap; I forgot her name already!) answers. “Is this your daughter?”

“Yes, this is Arvaneh.” I don’t know why I gave her a name that’s so difficult for Czechs.

It takes Red Shirt a few tries to get it right.

“And is that your son?” Call me Captain Obvious.

“Yes, this is Honza.”

“He looks like he’s having a good time. Does he like this school?”

“Yes, he’s made a lot of friends here. Does your daughter like it?”

“Yes, she does.” She is very reserved like me and hasn’t made any friends yet. I don’t know how to help her.

I decide to change the subject. Dale Carnegie says people love talking about themselves. “So, are you from here in Prague?”

“No, I was born in Moravia, but I came here for school and stayed because I found a job. Do you like Prague?”

“Yes, I like it a lot, but I get homesick. Especially in the winter!” I smile. This is true. But I also feel a lack of sensitivity here. But maybe that’s all big cities. Maybe it’s just everywhere now. And I’m afraid of going home in today’s socio-political climate, and where is “home?”

“What do you do here?” Red Shirt asks.

“I’m an English teacher now, but I’m trying to change careers—to some form of writing or editing.” I’m getting closer to 40 but still don’t feel like a real adult. You look like you have the adulting thing down, and you’re probably younger than me.

I don’t really want to talk about myself. “What do you do?” Probably an office job, surely something stable.

“I work at Raiffeisen Bank.” Bingo!

“And do you have other children?” I ask. I’m sure you’re a much better mom than me. You seem “grounded.”

“Yes, I have another boy; he’s seven years old now. Do you have any more?”

“No, just Arvaneh.” Even with just one, I’m afraid of screwing up. I don’t know much about kids. I had no experience with them before. All I have to offer her is love, and it’s not enough. I couldn’t even get her to take a bath last night and she watched Masha and the Bear for way too long, and I let her do it because I like hearing her laugh.

“So, what does Honza like to do?” I’m running out of things to ask. How long have we been talking?

“Oh, he’s into cars. And buses, planes, fire trucks, tractors. Typical boy stuff.” Oh really?

“Arvaneh likes tractors too. And animals. Do you like the Museum of Agriculture?” I lurk on their page looking for free events.

“We’ve only been once. But he sits on the tractors when we visit my parents in the country. He likes animals too; we have a dog.”

“Oh, what kind?”

Red Shirt mentions the name of a dog breed I don’t recognize and asks if we have any pets.

“No. I’d like to have a cat someday, but we can’t now. I’ve always had cats.” I pause. “Those cookies look good,” I say, and proceed to take a few for my plate. “Which ones did you make?”

“I made these.” She points to the Linzer cookies.

“Oh. They look pretty.” I can’t pinpoint the exact difference, but the ones I had in Germany were better. I never eat the Czech ones.

“Do you bake Christmas cookies?” she asks.

I prefer American sweets. ”No, I usually make a gingerbread cake for Christmas. Or pumpkin pie.”

“Pumpkin pie? What’s in it?”

“Well, it’s usually made with pumpkin puree—I use the Hokkaidos—sugar, eggs, milk, and lots of spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and clove.” Actually, my recipe is vegan, but I’m not going to tell you that because you will think I’m being pretentious or condescending. “And we serve it with whipped cream.” I use the spray can. I know how silly it sounds to use that stuff on a vegan pie, but I really can’t be bothered to make coconut whipped cream. The minute they put coconut cream in a spray can, I’m on it!

“Sounds interesting. I only use pumpkin for soup.”

I smile and nod. Your lipstick is perfect. I wonder if that color would look good on me. I’ll look for it at DM next time.

”Oh, I’d like to talk to Arvaneh’s teacher while I’m here. It was nice meeting you!” You’re a nice person, but I’m out of things to say.

“You too, have a nice Christmas!”

Between my broken Czech and the teacher’s broken English, we manage to have a conversation. I kill enough time that I feel comfortable saying a general na shledanou and leaving. The nervous energy has built up inside me and the walk home will do me good. If my daughter wasn’t with me, I would run. But I’m glad I went. Those people are nice—it’s me that’s the problem.

 

Photo courtesy of RitaE on Pixabay

The Familiars (excerpt)

Again, I’ve been neglecting my own work due to ghostwriting projects. I am working on a braided essay of my own, but I will want to pitch that somewhere when it’s finished. Here is an excerpt from a piece I might do more with in the future.

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The Familiars (excerpt)

The most intriguing room of the house for Mina and me was the attic, with its ramshackle, gabled ceiling, its lead window, round like a porthole, its hoard of treasures enticing us from within square, rectangular, and round boxes and lurking, ghostlike, under once-white, moth-eaten sheets. As we opened box after box, dust specks sparkled like tiny bits of silver in the light from the window. It coated our bodies and heads, even our tongues, like stale icing sugar, and caused explosions of sneezes that startled moths out from the crevices.

We found a rough, wooden box packed with gold, silver, and bronze coins with unfamiliar engravings, some of them even with holes in the middle, flaking letters written in strange characters, stiff, ruffled dresses, capes, and men’s vests, all black, some of them moldy and some in pristine condition, brittle marionettes, the strings long ago eaten by mice, blue and green glass bottles that smelled a bit like licorice, and a cold, steel revolver.

And then we spied the chest, ensconced in the corner. It was golden and ruby-red, shining, untouched by the dust that blanketed everything else. A faint, almost imperceptible, hum tickled our ears and drew us into its orbit. The clasp gave me an electric shock as I touched it and I jumped back. Then Mina reached for it and, after some forcing, managed to snap it open. The lid of the chest sprang back on its own. Mina and I hovered over the open chest, our breath merging with the now-clearer hum.

Inside rested a bee. Its body looked like an emerald and was the size of a lemon. Its legs and antennae were black glass. Its wings were miniature stained-glass windows. “So beautiful,” Mina whispered, and her hand drifted over it and touched its head. It burst like a confetti popper into hundreds of live bees, which escaped between her fingers, over our heads, and out the door. Mina and I exchanged a glance—I think I screamed—and we rushed through the door after them, nearly tripping each other on the threshold.

We Remain

I was ghostwriting a nonfiction book for most of February, so I didn’t have much time to work on my own stuff. Here is something I wrote a while back and just dusted off. It’s a dialogue inspired by Europe After the Rain II by Max Ernst. I hope the formatting holds up here!

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“We Remain” – by Lori Laleh Goshert

Oh!

You’re real!

Are you? I didn’t think…

I haven’t seen anyone in three days! I mean, you know, not alive…

Me neither. I thought I was the only one.

Me too.

Everyone is gone…

I know.

How did you survive?

My brother pushed me into the basement when they came. Then I heard him… I heard him… he didn’t even sound human when they were… when they… killed him. I passed out. When I woke up, the house was torn apart and everyone was dead. I had fallen behind a pile of boxes. They missed me.

I was fixing the crawl space. Somehow they overlooked it. I wish…I wish…

That they killed you too?

Yes!

I know. I should have gone to help my brother.

You couldn’t have saved him.

I know. But…

Um… can you… ?

What?

I’m sorry. But can you hold me? Just for a second.

Of course, come here.

Thank you.

Seems I needed it too. I can’t believe they’re gone…

Yes.

So many bodies! Bodies without…

I think they took all the heads with them.

But why?

I don’t know.

Do they eat them?

Maybe. Or experiments. On our brains?

Ugh! I don’t want to think about it. Did you see them?

Not up close, only from the window before my brother…

I saw them. One came close to the opening but didn’t see me.

Those devil horns! That’s all I remember.

Yes, they had to be at least two feet long. Their skin looked thick and rough like an elephant’s, only slate blue. And they had red eyes, sharp claws, and teeth like crocodiles, and…

And what?

They were intelligent. I don’t understand how monsters that disgusting could plan such a thing. They exterminated us like rats. Like rats!

What do you think they were looking for? What did they want here?

I don’t know. They took the… the heads. The human heads, I mean.

I didn’t see many dead animals, did you? They just wanted us.

You saw what they did to those mountains, right?

They tore them up. As if they were cardboard.

Why?

Were they looking for something? Metals?

That could be. Maybe they’re in short supply where they come from.

Where’s that though; Mars? Hell?

Well, not Earth. Their ships… so advanced! So strange-looking! But…are they coming back?

It doesn’t seem like it. They didn’t leave anything behind. Not a trace. I think they got what they wanted, whatever it was.

I hope you’re right. Not that it matters much, really.

Do you think there’s anyone else left?

I don’t know. There’s no phone signal, no Wi-Fi, no radio, nothing is working.

We were watching the news, just an hour before… before they came. There was a broadcast from Japan. They talked about UFO sightings, and said there were reports of some strange creatures on Hokkaido, but then there was a huge crash and the program cut off. The reporters must be dead. Our TV stopped working about ten minutes later.

So it’s not just here then.

No. But can it really have happened everywhere? The whole world, like this?

Maybe. How can we know?

We have to get away from here. We can’t bury all of them and there will be diseases.

Yes, and I bet the dogs will go mad. They will be dangerous.

Did they destroy all the mountains?

Not all of them. I passed a few that were untouched. You were probably right about the metals.

I suppose we have to go there then.

Yes. Hopefully the water will be clean, at least.

We can take a truck, fill it with food… should we look for anyone else?

We’ll look on the way, but I don’t think we can wait any longer to get out of here.

We need guns. Because of the dogs. And the wolves. Whatever the hell else.

We’ll take some. Do you know how to shoot one?

No.

I do. I’ll show you.

And then what?

What do you mean?

Should we try to rebuild?

For what? For us?

Maybe we’ll be able to find more people. In a few months, or years.

It’s possible, but do you think it’s worth the effort after this?

Well… probably not. No, I don’t think so.

Me neither.

Humanity can just end with us.

Good idea.  

*Image courtesy of WikiArt

From the Ashes

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From the Ashes (excerpt from my short story)

Zora felt the hot pressure flood behind her eyes again and willed the images away. The taxi would arrive soon and there was no time to redo her makeup.

The sound of a news broadcast caught Zora’s attention as she waited in the lobby. “His life is pretty well ruined.” The TV screen displayed the curly-headed and chinless face of Brock Turner, round eyes staring blankly into the camera. “Those who say, ‘Oh, he’s not really being punished,’ it seems to me, are missing the point.” Zora frowned and dug her short fingernails into the underside of her arm and shuddered as the action awoke a stray memory of other fingers clutching that same arm. A flash of yellow from outside pulled her back and she hurried out the door.

As the taxi crawled through the traffic toward Midtown Atlanta, Zora gazed out the windows, taking in her surroundings. She filed each image away like a keepsake in her mind, inwardly preparing answers to questions no one would care enough to ask her. Zora saw glossy-leafed magnolias in full bloom, the silver of ultra-modern condominiums, banks, and hotels, red stone churches, a wall plastered with concert posters – one of them depicting a woman in chains…

Zora willed herself to stay focused, and looked out the other window. “I’ll see you later tonight,” she whispered to herself as the car glided past the Fox theatre.

After the Eclipse – Excerpt from Chapter 2

Here’s another excerpt from my novella, After the Eclipse (I might change the title). I’m still in the rough draft stages and plan to do the revisions this month.

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It was just getting dark when Victoria returned to the hotel. She tossed her bag onto the bed and flopped down after it, not bothering to turn on the light. She closed her eyes and rubbed her temples for a few moments. Looking up and seeing the open curtains, she rose to close them and froze. Two feet from the glass stood a tall man with long, pale hair and very white skin. His crystal blue eyes bore into hers and fixed her in place. Victoria felt as if her bones were turning to ice. She stared back at him. He had elliptical pupils, like a cat’s. They expanded as he gazed at her, the black overtaking the aquamarine. Victoria shook herself and reached for her phone. The moonlight glinted off something round, blue, and shiny that hung from a chain around his neck. The stranger’s cape and tunic whipped in the wind as he turned. Another figure emerged from the shadows and they strode away together.

Victoria sank back onto the bed as the police came on the line.

* Image courtesy of Viktor Titov; check out more of his work here: https://www.artstation.com/artwork/scary-forest